Currently in medical care in the United States, there are four main primary care specialties: family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, and geriatrics. Internal medicine is primary care for adults, pediatrics is primary care for children and infants, and geriatrics is primary care for seniors. Family medicine, the broadest specialty, is primary care for all ages.
A family medicine physician is a medical ‘home base’ for patients. They treat all ages, all sexes, all organs, and all diseases. They can see every member of the family, from birth through old age. This allows family medicine doctors to develop long-term relationships with their patients and to understand how their patients’ role in the family affects their health. They can provide check-ups, immunizations, screening services, gynecological exams and obstetric care, routine health care, and health counseling. When more specialized care is needed, a family medicine doctor can refer their patients to appropriate specialists. They can become educators and advocates for their patients in the sometimes overwhelming health care system.
As health care changes in this country, family medicine is a growing specialty for families and individuals who are seeking more personalized health care and a more personal relationship with their physician.
What is Pediatric Cardiology?
Pediatric cardiologists are doctors who specialize in children’s heart problems. Their patients may range in age from unborn babies still in the womb to teenagers, and in some cases even adults. The main difference between pediatric cardiology and adult cardiology is not only that pediatric cardiologists treat younger patients. Pediatric cardiologists are much more likely to treat heart problems that are congenital, meaning a patient is born with them.
Due to the advances of modern medicine, babies who are born with congenital heart disorders are more likely than ever to survive into adulthood. In certain cases, pediatric cardiologists continue to provide care for these adult patients, because their training and experience gives them particular insight to the kind of heart problems these adult survivors have.
Other than congenital heart disease, pediatric cardiologists also treat:
Hypertension or high blood pressure
Murmurs or palpitations
Infections of the heart
Cardiomyopathy, or problems with the heart muscle
Arrhythmia, or irregular heart beats
Congestive heart failure
A pediatric cardiologist often uses tests called echocardiograms and electrocardiograms (EKG) to examine the structure and activity of the heart. Once a diagnosis is made, treatment may involve lifestyle changes, catheterization (where a thin tube is threaded through a blood vessel to the heart to open blockages or provide further information), or surgery.
What is Cardiac Electrophysiology?
Cardiac electrophysiology, or simply electrophysiology, is a subspecialty of cardiology. Cardiac electrophysiologists are doctors who really feel the beat: they specialize in the rhythm of the heart and the way it uses electrical impulses to move.
Cardiac electrophysiologists diagnose problems with heartbeats, or arrhythmias. Arrhythmias can be present at birth or simply come with age. Other medical conditions can also affect the heart’s rhythm: for example, sleep disorders, diabetes, high blood pressure, and hardened arteries.
Cardiac electrophysiologists treat heart rhythm disorders with medication or surgical procedures. One such procedure is called an "ablation," which uses radio frequency waves to kill heart cells that may be misfiring. Cardiac electrophysiologists can also implant devices that control the rhythm of the heart, such as pacemakers or defibrillators.
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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