6 Types of Heart Doctors You Should Know About

A doctor who specializes in issues of the heart is called a cardiologist. According to the American College of Cardiology, these physicians are trained to find, treat and help prevent diseases that attack this vital organ as well as the body's blood vessels.

Cardiologists treat a wide variety of issues that affect the heart and blood vessels (Image: asiseeit/E+/GettyImages)

But the term cardiologist encompasses a few specialists who each focus on a different area of heart treatment. Here, we'll break down what you need to know about these highly trained health care professionals.

General Cardiologist

A general cardiologist treats a wide range of problems that affect the heart and blood vessels. When someone is diagnosed with either a heart or vascular condition by their primary care physician, the patient usually is then referred to a general cardiologist. After obtaining the patient's medical history and evaluating his or her symptoms, the doctor may recommend additional testing.

If the cardiologist concludes that the heart condition requires a procedure or surgery, he or she will refer the patient to a type of cardiologist who specializes in the necessary treatment, according to the Texas Heart Institute.

Interventional Cardiologist

An interventional cardiologist performs non-invasive procedures that focus on catheter-based management of heart disease, states the American College of Physicians. These specialists treat various cardiovascular conditions, such as valve disease, congenital heart abnormalities and ischemic heart disease (of which the most common type is coronary artery disease). The latter involves the hardening and narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to the heart, explains the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, a division of the National Institutes of Health.

A common procedure performed by interventional cardiologists is angioplasty. According to the Mayo Clinic, this procedure involves temporarily inserting a balloon into the artery to increase blood flow, followed by implanting a permanent mesh tube (or stent) in the artery to keep it open.

Another procedure often performed by these doctors is valvuloplasty, which uses X-ray imaging to insert a catheter with a balloon on the tip into a heart valve, in order to widen it and allow for better blood flow, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Electrophysiologist

An eletrophysiologist performs electrocardiograms, which record the heart's electrical activity (Image: Tashi-Delek/iStock/GettyImages)

An electrophysiologist (or cardiac EP) has extended training — two additional years beyond the required training of a cardiologist — in cardiovascular issues that involve diagnosing and treating abnormal heart rhythms, otherwise known as arrhythmias, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center. EPs can order and perform various tests, including a stress test (which monitors how the heart reacts during exercise), an echocardiogram (which uses sound waves to show images of the heart's structure and how it functions) and electrocardiogram (which involves placing electrodes on the chest in order to record the heart's electrical activity).

Along with prescribing medicine, these specialists can also treat arrhythmias by either implanting a device in the body that's designed to reset or control the heart (like a pacemaker or implantable cardioverter defibrillator) or performing a procedure that will have the same effect (such as a defibrillation, a technique that delivers a controlled electric shock to the heart).

Pediatric Cardiologist

A pediatric cardiologist specializes in heart health care for infants and children. Since the type of heart problems that can affect a baby, toddler or child are different from the heart problems that affect adults, a pediatric cardiologist might be called on if the child's primary care physician (pediatrician) has concerns about his or her cardiovascular system.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, these specialists practice in numerous settings, including children's hospitals, university medical centers and large community hospitals, as well as private offices.

Surgeons Who Work Closely With Cardiologists

There are two types of surgeons who are not classified as cardiologists but specialize in the surgical treatment of the heart and/or its corresponding blood vessels.

Cardiothoracic surgeon: This doctor specializes in diseases that stem from the organs in the chest, as well as in the bony structures and tissues that form in the chest cavity, including the heart, lungs and esophagus, according to The Society of Thoracic Surgeons. A specialist under this title can also be referred to as a cardiac surgeon.

These doctors perform highly invasive cardiac procedures, such as heart valve repair and replacement, heart defect repair, coronary artery bypass and heart transplantation, states the Texas Heart Institute.

Vascular surgeon: According to the Inova Heart and Vascular Institute, a vascular surgeon performs procedures within the vascular system, which is the network of blood vessels — the veins, arteries and capillaries — that transport blood to and from the heart.

These doctors are trained to perform open, complicated surgeries, as well as minimally invasive endovascular procedures, such as treating an aneurysm (a swelling or "ballooning" of the blood vessel), states the Society for Vascular Surgery.

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