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 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.
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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