What is Interventional Cardiology?
Interventional cardiology is the treatment of heart disease without surgery, through the use of catheters. Primarily this is via a procedure called cardiac catheterization, where a long, thin, flexible tube, called a catheter, is threaded through a vein or artery up towards the heart. The catheter can be used to inject dye for x-rays, open narrowed artery walls, widen heart valves, place stents, or perform other tests and procedures.
Cardiology is a large specialty, and covers many diseases and disorders of the heart as well as several different kinds of treatments. What makes interventional cardiologists special is their ability to use minimally invasive procedures to treat heart disease. Interventional cardiologists may treat coronary artery disease and peripheral artery disease, where blood vessels become narrowed or blocked. They also may repair or replace damaged heart valves.
During a cardiac catheterization, the interventional cardiologist inserts the catheter into a blood vessel through a small incision in the groin or arm. It is then threaded to the blocked artery or into the heart, where tiny tools can be passed through the tube. These tools are used to perform percutaneous coronary interventions, or procedures done to the heart and arteries via catheter. Procedures may include:
Angioplasty, or opening of blocked arteries, often via the inflation of a balloon
Atherectomy, the physical cutting away of plaque buildup
Stenting, the placement of metal springs to hold artery walls open
Heart valve repair or replacement
Closure of holes in the heart
That these procedures can be performed without the pain and recovery time of traditional surgery is truly amazing.
What is Cardiology?
Cardiology is the study of the heart and blood vessels, and a cardiologist makes sure they are functioning well. Patients see cardiologists for many issues affecting the circulatory system, including:
Hypertension, or high blood pressure
Heart attack prevention and treatment
Congestive Heart Failure, where the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the needs of the body
Heart transplant evaluation and care after surgery
Peripheral vascular disease, where arteries in the limbs narrow and reduce blood flow
Aneurysm, or a swelling in the blood vessels
Coronary Artery Disease, where the blood vessels delivering oxygen and nutrients to the heart become blocked
After performing a physical exam, a cardiologist may order a number of imaging tests in order to get a better understanding of what disease or complication might be causing problems in the heart and blood vessels. Some of these might include:
An electrocardiogram, which checks the heart’s electrical activity
X-rays to see tissues more clearly
Cardiac catheterization, where a small tube is directed into the heart to test pressure, oxygen levels, and blood flow
Although some cardiologists provide primary care, cardiologists more typically work as consultants to primary care physicians when a heart issue comes up. Cardiologists do not perform surgery, but they can perform “interventional” procedures, such as balloon angioplasty (where a balloon is used to stretch open narrowed veins) or stent placement to keep blood flowing.
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