Diagnostic cardiology is used to evaluate the health of the heart. Heart disease is one of the most common chronic diseases, affecting more than 20 million adults ages 20 and older. It is important to work closely with your doctor to help maintain your cardiac health and look for signs of a developing disease.
If you have lifestyle factors that place you at higher risk of developing heart disease, then it is even more pressing that you find a cardiologist to see regularly to watch your heart health over the years. This article will share information on diagnostic cardiology and how you and your doctor can work together to manage your cardiac health.
Types of Cardiology
There are three main types of cardiology: interventional, non-invasive and invasive. Your cardiologist may use one or more of these methods to detect and treat heart disease. We will explain each method in more detail below.
Non-invasive cardiology looks for heart issues using methods that do not break through the skin. Meaning these diagnostic procedures are free from needles, fluids or other instruments inserted into the body. Some common non-invasive techniques include:
- Echocardiography: An ultrasound of the heart.
- Cardiac electrophysiology: Testing the electrical currents that are generated with each heartbeat.
- Stress tests: Exercise monitored by a cardiologist to see how your heart tolerates activity.
- Nuclear medicine: Imaging tests that use radioactive elements.
- Heart monitors: Recording the heart’s activity over time.
- CT scans: Producing detailed images of the heart to look for disease.
Interventional cardiology is a non-surgical method used to repair damaged, weakened or narrowed vessels. This treatment method utilizes a catheter which is a small flexible tube that is inserted into the veins.
Heart Disease Diagnostic Tests
Your doctor will perform a number of tests to determine whether you have heart disease and to plan the proper treatment approach. Below, we’re sharing some common diagnostic testing methods for heart disease including invasive tests, non-invasive tests and interventional tests.
Invasive tests are sometimes used when non-invasive tests don’t provide enough information. Some examples of invasive cardiology tests include:
- Coronary angiography and cardiac catheterization. This diagnostic test uses a flexible tube inserted through a blood vessel toward the heart. It can check for heart abnormalities.
- Electrophysiology study. An electrophysiology study involves feeding an electrode catheter through your blood vessel to the heart. It sends electrical signals to your heart to help map the electrical activity.
Some non-invasive tests that your doctor may use to evaluate your heart health include:
- X-ray. Chest x-rays are sometimes performed to get an idea of a person’s heart health. This non-invasive procedure scans the chest to produce images of the heart as well as the surrounding vessels and valves.
- CT scan. A CT scan produces more detailed images than an x-ray because it captures multiple images from different angles. CT scans can show your provider any issues with the heart structure, valves, arteries and more.
- Stress testing. A stress test is a diagnostic test that involves doing exercise while hooked up to a heart monitor. Usually, stress tests will require you to walk on a treadmill while your doctor monitors how your heart responds to the activity.
- Electrocardiogram. Electrocardiograms or ECGs look at the rhythm of the heart. This helps your provider recognize an abnormal heart rhythm, also called an arrhythmia.
- Echocardiogram. An echocardiogram is an ultrasound of the heart. It helps your provider see how your heart chambers and valves work when pumping blood through the heart.
Interventional cardiology specifically uses catheter-based procedures to diagnose and treat heart conditions. This means that they insert a long flexible tube into a vein or artery to reach the heart. There are a variety of different interventional tests that use catheters including:
- Cardiac biopsy
- Coronary angiography
- Digital subtraction angiography (DSA)
- Intravascular ultrasound
- Myocardial perfusion imaging (MPI)
Cardiologist vs Cardiovascular Surgeon
There is a difference between a cardiovascular surgeon and a cardiologist, although both play an important role in caring for patients with cardiac conditions. A cardiologist is usually in charge of diagnosis and medical treatment. They may also perform nonsurgical procedures such as cardiac catheterizations and some of the other interventional procedures listed above.
Cardiovascular surgeons are specifically trained in surgery. This means they perform open-heart procedures such as bypass surgery and valve replacement procedures.
Typically, your cardiologist will be who you see regularly, who monitors your heart and who recommends any treatments or surgeries. If you end up needing open-heart surgery to treat a heart condition, you will be referred to a cardiovascular surgeon.
When To See A Cardiologist
If you don’t already see a cardiologist regularly, you’re probably wondering how to know if it’s time to start seeing one. Some signs to look out for that may indicate a cardiac condition include:
- Chest pain
- Heart palpitations
Even if you don’t have any clear signs of heart disease, it’s probably a good idea to start seeing a cardiologist regularly if you have any of the following risk factors:
- Family History of heart attack, arrhythmia or any other heart disease
- Poor diet
- Advanced age
- History of high cholesterol
- History of high blood pressure
- You’re inactive and planning to start exercising regularly
- You have history of being a smoker
Staying on top of your cardiac health may be as simple as seeing your cardiologist regularly. The providers at UCF Health can help with diagnosing and managing cardiac conditions. Building a strong background knowledge of cardiac health and different tests and treatments can help you take action and stay healthy before a bigger problem arises.