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 Genetics?
Genetics is the branch of medicine dealing with the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of genetically-linked or hereditary diseases. It includes both genetic counselors and medical geneticists, who may be involved in either patient care or research.
Medical geneticists are doctors who study genes and diseases that are caused by genes. There are many diseases linked to genetics, including:
Single gene disorders, the result of a single mutated gene. Examples include Huntington’s disease, which causes jerky movements, and sickle-cell anemia, where red blood cells have an abnormal, rigid shape.
Inborn metabolic disorders, which are a specific type of single gene disorder that results in abnormalities in the way the body chemically processes proteins, carbohydrates or fats. Some examples are Urea Cycle Disorder (where ammonia builds up in the body) and Gaucher’s Disease (where fatty substances build up in cells and organs).
Chromosomal disorders, where gene-carrying chromosomes do not pair up correctly or are missing. Some examples are Klinefelter Syndrome, a sex-chromosome disorder, and Down Syndrome.
Congenital abnormalities (commonly known as birth defects), which can be caused by genetic abnormalities. They also can happen because of illness or environmental exposure during pregnancy (such as with rubella), or for unknown reasons.
Other common diseases that have hereditary traits, such diabetes, autism, and some types of cancer.
Medical geneticists typically spend their career in research, although some treat or counsel patients. A patient may see a medical geneticist to obtain more information about their disorder or about how an inherited disorder might impact their family. The field of medical genetics includes the following four subspecialties:
Clinical Genetics: This overarching branch of medical genetics deals with the treatment and management of hereditary diseases.
Biomechanical Genetics: This branch deals with metabolic disorders, such as galactosemia and phenylketonuria.
Cytogenetics: This specialty deals with chromosomes and their associated diseases, as well as testing their structure and number.
Molecular Genetics: This specialty focuses on DNA, interpreting DNA sequencing and other tests, and relating DNA information to specific diseases.
Related to medical genetics is the field of genetic counseling. These healthcare professionals are not physicians, but they are educators who help patients interpret medical information about genetic risk, which can sometimes be difficult to understand or overwhelming. When families face the possibility of having a child with an inherited disease, genetic counselors educate them about their specific risks and options. They analyze patterns in family history and interpret the medical probability of a genetic disease occurring. They provide support and put families in contact with resources. Genetic counselors help families adapt to all of the implications that a hereditary disease can have in their life.
What is Cardiothoracic Surgery?
Cardiothoracic surgery is the medical specialty that provides surgical care for the chest. Most often this means heart or lung surgery, but it can also include surgery on the esophagus, breastbone, or chest wall. Some cardiothoracic surgeons may specialize in the surgical treatment of children, or focus on a specific organ or surgical procedure.
Some of the diseases and procedures that a cardiothoracic surgeon might handle include:
Coronary artery disease
Heart valve surgery
Cancer of the esophagus
GERD, or severe acid reflux
Heart or lung transplants
Cardiothoracic surgeons may use various types of imaging, such as an electrocardiogram or CT scan, to diagnose problems and plan the operation. They may also offer minimally invasive surgery or robotic surgery, if appropriate, to lower the risk of scarring and infection.
Cardiothoracic surgery is an older medical specialty, but it is still one of the most amazing. Often patients who need a cardiothoracic surgeon are extremely sick, suffering from an illness that will kill them without intervention. With surgery, however, they often make a complete recovery.
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