Do You Need to See a Cardiologist?

Go for Chest Pain, Irregular Heartbeat, and More

Cardiologist consultations are typically recommended by a patient's primary care physician in response to either heightened risk factors for cardiovascular disease or symptoms that indicate it may already be present.

Because heart disease is America's number one killer—affecting over 30 million people—physicians are keenly aware of the stakes in detecting or diagnosing it.

Doctor using digital tablet talking to patient
Ariel Skelley / Getty Images

Risk Factors

Major risk factors for heart disease, such as one or more immediate family members being affected as well as high blood pressure or cholesterol readings, may prompt your primary physician to refer you to a cardiologist. This referral may result in either a one-time visit or ongoing care, depending on the results.

A strong family history of heart disease, for example, may be the catalyst for an evaluation or for low-level tests to check heart function. If results prove normal, you may continue to be monitored by your primary care physician. More ominous findings, however, may spur further testing that can result in long-term cardiology care. You can estimate your own risk for heart disease.

More commonly, certain symptoms cause patients to seek cardiology care that include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort is known as angina, which often indicates narrowed arteries providing blood to the heart
  • Rhythm disturbances called arrhythmias, which can include palpitations or missed heartbeats
  • Shortness of breath, which can indicate congestive heart failure or valve problems
  • A cardiac event, such as a heart attack, which requires ongoing cardiology monitoring after the emergency passes

Different Types of Cardiologists

The field of cardiology has several subspecialties in which the cardiologist concentrates on specific heart problems. A patient's particular heart problem dictates which type of cardiologist is needed.

Some of the subspecialties of cardiology include:

  • Interventional cardiologists, who use tubes called catheters to perform angiograms, which can indicate narrowed arteries around the heart
  • Echocardiographers interpret the images obtained by the use of sound waves. Echocardiographers are a subset of the cardiology subspecialty known as cardiac imaging specialists. These include specialists in nuclear cardiology, cardiac MRI, and cardiac CT in addition to echocardiography.
  • Electrophysiologists are cardiologists who specialize in diagnosing and treating arrhythmias.
  • Preventive cardiologists focus on cardiac risk and methods to reduce that risk to prevent a first or subsequent heart attack or stroke. Many hospitals across the United States devote outpatient centers seek to prevent cardiac events by helping patients with lifestyle issues, such as weight, exercise or smoking. A retrospective clinical study, published in the journal, Preventive Cardiology, demonstrated that patients who participated in such programs had reduced cardiac risks.
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Article Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. Heart disease. Updated January 19, 2017.

  2. Penn Medicine. Nine reasons to see a cardiologist. Updated November 8, 2016.

  3. Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Men's Health Watch. Heart disease: All in the family history. Published January 2016.

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  5. American Heart Association. Angina in women can be different than men. Updated July 31, 2015.

  6. Cleveland Clinic. When you should see a doctor about shortness of breath. Updated October 17, 2018.

  7. Cleveland Clinic. Caridiac catheritization. Updated May 14, 2019.

  8. Shapiro MD, Maron DJ, Morris PB, et al. Preventive cardiology as a subspecialty of cardiovascular medicine: JACC Council perspectives. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2019;74(15):1926-1942. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2019.08.1016

  9. Taveira TH, Wu WC, Martin OJ, Schleinitz MD, Friedmann P, Sharma SC. Pharmacist-led cardiac risk reduction model. Prev Cardiol. 2006;9(4):202-208. doi:10.1111/j.1520-037x.2006.05339.x

Additional Reading
  • "Caring for Your Heart: Do You Have the Facts?." mcacc.org. 2008. Massachusetts Chapter, American College of Cardiology.

  • "The Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease." hopkinshospital.org. 2008. Johns Hopkins Medicine.

  • "When Should You See a Cardiologist?" acc.org. 12 Mar. 2008. American College of Cardiology.