A question I often get asked as a cardiologist in Los Angeles is “what does cardiology mean?” The word cardiology is derived from Greek origins. It is a medical specialty that contends with the disorders of the heart, usually referring to a human heart.
The cardiology field includes medically diagnosing and treating electrophysiology, as well as coronary artery disease, dangerous heart failure, possible congenital heart defects, and also valvular heart disease.
Who are Cardiologists?
Physicians who practice in the specialty are known as cardiologists. This is not to be confused with a cardiac surgeon who performs heart surgery by opening the chest. A cardiologist does however perform procedures and tests such as an angioplasty.
There is a difference between cardiovascular disease and heart disease. Cardiovascular disease refers to the illnesses and disorders of the blood vessels in the heart. Heart disease refers to the heart itself.
In the United States, cardiology is classified as part of internal medicine. You need to have a three year residency studying in internal medicine and then another three year residency studying in cardiology to become a cardiologist in the US.
The importance of The Heart
The heart which is at the center of cardiology has numerous physiological features such as heart sounds, systole, and after load, as well as anatomical features such as heart valves, atria, and ventricles. All of this has been documented for centuries.
Heart disorders lead to cardiovascular disease and heart disease. They are a contributing factor to a significant number of deaths around the world, and many people choose to learn the field of cardiology to help combat these statistics.
The Heart’s Job
The heart’s primary responsibility is to pump the blood around the body. This starts in the body which is called systemic circulation, then proceeds through the lungs which is called pulmonary circulation, and then returns back out into the body. The heart is connected to and can affect the entire bodies system.
While there is a great deal of information that is known for a healthy heart, the biggest part of learning cardiology is studying heart disorders and the restoration of the function of the heart when possible.
The heart functions as a pump and can be susceptible to dysfunction or failure either mechanically or electrically.
The Heart and Electricity
The electrical part that controls the functioning of the heart centers on the periodic contraction of the muscle cells. This function of the electrical system can manifest itself in many ways including ventricular fibrillation, Wolf Parkinson White syndrome, and heart block.
The Heart as a Pump
The mechanical functioning of the heart centers on fluid movement of the blood and how the heart functions properly as a pump. This part is the main purpose of the hearts’ function and can be disrupted by many heart disorders.
This in turn inhibits the heart’s ability to move blood through the body. If the heart fails to move a sufficient amount of blood, organs in the body can begin to fail. When the mechanical functioning of the heart begins to fail the condition known as heart failure occurs meaning insufficient blood is being circulated through the body.
There are many subspecialties that you can choose to excel in when choosing the field of cardiology. The first would be interventional cardiology. This involves learning techniques to use an intravascular catheter and fluoroscopy in the treatment of congenital cardiac, coronary artery, and valvular diseases.
Another subspecialty would be nuclear cardiology. This is a non-invasive study using nuclear imaging for cardiovascular diseases and disorders. This would include infarction imaging, playing our imaging, SPECT, and myocardial perfusion imaging. Radioactive materials are used with a nuclear cardiologist.
An echocardiography makes use of ultrasound waves to help create images of the chambers of the heart as well as the surrounding structures and valves.
This can help to measure the ability of the heart to pump blood, as well as the levels of inflammation surrounding the heart. Echocardiography is also used to help identify structural abnormalities were possible infections of the heart valves may be.
The subspecialty of cardiac electrophysiology is the study of the spread, mechanism, and interpretation of electrical currents that occur in the heart muscle tissue. Essentially, this is the system that helps to generate the heartbeat.
During one of these studies, a catheter is threaded into one of the veins at the top of your leg, then it is guided under the use of fluoroscopy, until the catheter makes its way all the way up to the heart. It then measures the electrical signals being produced within the heart.
This may be needed to determine if a patient is in need of a pacemaker, if they have an arrhythmia, or finding a problem if the patient has been having fainting spells and the cause has not been found.
The field of cardiology has come a long way from its humble beginnings. The use of technology has greatly improved the ability of care and service that a cardiologist can provide, helping to improve our never-ending fight against heart disease.