Interventional Cardiologist: Your Heart Disease Prevention & Cardiac Catheterization Specialist

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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What is an interventional cardiologist?

An interventional cardiologist specializes in diagnosing and treating conditions and diseases of the heart and blood vessels using nonsurgical, catheter-based procedures and specialized imaging techniques. Interventional cardiologists treat coronary artery disease, heart valve disorders, and congenital heart disease, among other heart problems. Interventional cardiologists are also highly skilled in the prevention of heart disease and its complications, such as heart failure.

An interventional cardiologist typically:

  • Evaluates a patient’s medical history and educates the patient about heart health and heart disease prevention

  • Performs a physical exam including evaluation of blood pressure and vital signs; weight; and the health of the heart, lungs, and blood vessels

  • Orders and interprets laboratory and imaging tests and prescribes medications

  • Diagnoses and treats acute and chronic diseases and conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels, including coronary heart disease, angina, arrhythmias, and heart attack

  • Screens, treats and monitors conditions known to increase the risk of heart disease, such as hypertension, smoking, and high cholesterol. For some complex risks, such as having diabetes, an interventional cardiologist will provide referrals to other specialists such as an endocrinologist.

  • Performs procedures including cardiac catheterization and coronary angioplasty

  • Works closely with your primary care doctor and other members of your healthcare team to provide optimal care

An interventional cardiologist may also be known by the following names: cardiologist, cardiac doctor, cardiovascular disease doctor, and heart doctor.

Who should see an interventional cardiologist?

Your primary care doctor can often take care of your general heart health and manage many conditions and risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure. However, you may be referred to an interventional cardiologist if your primary care doctor finds or suspects a serious heart or blood vessel problem, such as blockage of a coronary artery.

Finding a qualified and experienced interventional cardiologist for early treatment or preventive care is an effective way to reduce the risk of permanent heart damage, disability, and fatal complications. 

When should you see an interventional cardiologist?

You should seek care from a interventional cardiologist if:

  • You have changes in your EKG (electrocardiogram) test indicating a coronary artery blockage.

  • You have a form of heart disease that requires specialized care, such as unstable angina, heart attack, or heart valve disease.

  • You need specialized heart procedures including cardiac catheterization, heart valve repair, or angioplasty.

Interventional cardiologists take care of patients with the following symptoms or conditions:

If you have any of the above symptoms, call 911 immediately. Once you are in the emergency room, an emergency room doctor will diagnose your symptoms and request a cardiologist or interventional cardiologist examination if there is a possibility you are having a heart problem that requires specialized procedures.

What conditions and diseases does an interventional cardiologist treat?

An interventional cardiologist diagnoses and treats conditions of the heart and major blood vessels, including:

  • Angina, a type of chest pain usually caused by narrowing of the arteries (due to coronary heart disease)<

  • Arrhythmia, an abnormal heart rhythm in which your heart beats too fast, too slow, or irregularly

  • Cardiomyopathy, a weakening or enlargement of your heart muscle

  • Congenital heart defects (present at birth), including atrial septal defect and patent foramen ovale

  • Heart attack (myocardial infarction), which occurs when a portion of your heart muscle is deprived of oxygen-rich blood and dies

  • Heart failure, which occurs when your heart is too weak to pump enough blood to your body

  • Heart valve disorders, abnormalities of the valves that ensure blood flows in one direction through your heart

  • Myocarditis, or heart inflammation

What tests does an interventional cardiologist perform or order?

An interventional cardiologist can order or perform a wide variety of diagnostic and screening tests, including:

  • Cardiac enzyme tests to determine if your heart is damaged

  • Cardiac stress tests to determine if your heart has a decreased blood supply due to coronary heart disease

  • Echocardiogram (ultrasound) to look at your heart structure and function

  • EKG (electrocardiogram, or ECG) to record your heart rhythm

  • General health tests including complete blood count (CBC), urinalysis, chest X-ray, blood glucose (sugar) test, liver and kidney function tests, cholesterol panel, thyroid hormone tests, and blood pressure screening

  • Holter monitor to record your heart rhythm over a period of time

What procedures and treatments does an interventional cardiologist perform or order?

Interventional cardiologists order or perform various procedures and treatments to diagnose and treat heart and blood vessel conditions. Interventional cardiologists are not heart surgeons. For heart surgery, such as coronary artery bypass grafting (heart bypass surgery), your doctor will provide referrals to a cardiothoracic surgeon (also known as a cardiac surgeon or thoracic surgeon).

Interventional cardiologists perform the following procedures and treatments:

  • Alcohol septal ablation to treat obstructive cardiomyopathy

  • Angioplasty, atherectomy, and stent placement to open blocked arteries due to coronary heart disease and buildup of plaque

  • Aortic aneurysm repair using a less invasive technique than open surgery

  • Cardiac catheterization with coronary angiography to check heart function and find blocked arteries. Other diagnostic procedures include heart biopsy, acetylcholine challenge, intravascular ultrasound, fractional flow reserve, nipride study, and coronary flow reserve.

  • Heart valve repair and heart valve replacement including mitral and aortic valvuloplasty and transcatheter aortic valve implantation

  • Management of certain cardiac emergencies including heart attack

  • Medications and lifestyle recommendations to treat heart disease and reduce risk factors, such as high cholesterol, metabolic syndrome, and high blood pressure

  • Pacemaker and defibrillator insertion to treat abnormal heart rhythms

  • Repair of birth defects including closure of atrial septal defect and patent foramen ovale

Interventional cardiologist training and certification

When choosing an interventional cardiologist, board certification should be one of your first priorities. A doctor may practice interventional cardiology without becoming board certified in the specialty. However, education, training, experience and certification establish a doctor’s level of competence. Board certification verifies that a doctor has completed a rigorous training program and passed an exam demonstrating his or her expertise in interventional cardiology.

A board-certified interventional cardiologist has earned certification in interventional cardiology by the American Board of Internal Medicine or the American Osteopathic Board of Internal Medicine.

The general pathway for interventional cardiologists includes:

  • Graduation from medical school (MD) or a college of osteopathic medicine (DO)

  • Residency training and certification exam in internal medicine

  • Additional training and certification exams in both cardiology and interventional cardiology

To maintain board certification in interventional cardiology, a doctor must participate in an ongoing certification program.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2017 Nov 2
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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