A cardiovascular specialist holding up a heart-shaped stress ball

Cardiovascular Specialist vs. Cardiologist: What’s the Difference?

For many people, it can be difficult to determine what level of care is needed and where to receive that care. For seniors living with cardiovascular health issues, developing trust with your medical care providers is extremely important. If you or someone you love is at risk for heart disease, it’s important you understand the early warning signs. If you have a family history of heart disease, your primary care doctor may choose to monitor your health on their own. However, it is important for you to know you can always seek out additional medical advice on your own. 

Many older Americans manage their heart health and stay well despite a family history of heart conditions. It is important to remember that fact as we move forward to discuss statistics from the Center for Disease Control (CDC). These statistics are not here to alarm you, but rather to help you understand just how prevalent heart disease is in America. Understanding this will be helpful to you as you work with a primary care physician, cardiologist, or cardiovascular specialist. 

According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death for adults overall and across races and genders in the United States. One person dies every 37 seconds in the US from cardiovascular disease. The most common type of heart disease is coronary heart disease. In the United States, someone suffers from a heart attack every 40 seconds. That adds up to about 805,000 Americans per year who suffer a heart attack. For 605,000 of those heart attack sufferers, it will have been their first. The remaining 200,000 will have already experienced a heart attack in their lives. Perhaps the most important statistic to remember is that about 1 in 5 heart attacks is silent. That means the damage happens but the person experiencing the heart attack is not aware of it.

Now, here are some potential risk factors for heart disease:

  • High blood pressure 
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Nicotine use
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension, high cholesterol
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Weight and obesity
  • Physical inactivity
  • Excessive alcohol consumption

When heart disease is diagnosed by your primary care doctor, or when your risk for developing heart disease is determined to be very high, you will need to see a specialist. Additionally, if you aren’t feeling confident that your questions are being answered or your concerns are being addressed by your primary doctor you may determine yourself that it is time to see a specialist. 

Cardiologist vs. Cardiovascular Specialist

A cardiologist is a physician who specializes in diagnosing and treating diseases of the cardiovascular system. The cardiologist performs a variety of tests, and they may perform heart catheterizations, angioplasty, pacemaker insertion, and other procedures. 

A cardiologist falls within the broader term of a cardiovascular specialist. Meaning, there are many types of cardiovascular specialists, and cardiologist is one. For those who are at high risk for heart disease or have been diagnosed with heart disease, it will be necessary to see a cardiologist who can both diagnose and treat heart disease. 

Here are some of the specialists that you may need to see depending on your health condition and your needs after you have been in the care of a cardiologist. These are all types of cardiovascular specialists. 

  • Cardiac Surgeons – Cardiac surgeons specialize in treating heart-related disorders, including performing bypass surgery, valve repair and placement, and heart transplants.
  • Electrophysiologists – Electrophysiologists diagnose and treat heart rhythm problems like atrial fibrillation (AFib) and ventricular tachycardia.
  • Interventional Cardiologists – Interventional cardiologists specialize in diagnosing and treating heart disease using procedures performed in cardiac catheterization labs like angiography or placing stents.
  • Vascular Medicine Cardiologists – Vascular medicine cardiologists specialize in treating the veins and arteries outside of the heart, which may cause circulation problems in the arms and legs, commonly called peripheral vascular disease.
  • Vascular Surgeons – Vascular surgeons treat conditions in the veins and arteries outside of the heart and problems associated with poor circulation.
  • Cardiac Anesthesiologists Intensivists – Cardiac anesthesiologists intensivists manage the anesthesia aspects of care related to cardiothoracic surgical cases, such as open-heart surgery and lung surgery.
  • Cardiooncologists – Cardiooncologists treat heart disease in patients with cancer. Some chemotherapy agents and forms of radiation therapy are toxic to the heart. Involving a cardio-oncologist in the care of a patient needing radiation to the chest or receiving a toxic form of chemotherapy can minimize cardiac risk and help ensure the best outcome for cancer without harming the heart. 
  • Cardiac Rehabilitation Specialists – Cardiac rehabilitation specialists create and monitor exercise and nutrition programs for patients after a heart attack, heart surgery, or an interventional procedure or diagnosis of heart failure

Maintaining and improving heart health is essential at any age, but especially for seniors who want to live an active, fulfilling life. Schedule an appointment with Cano Health so we can assess your needs and ensure you are treated by the right cardiovascular specialist for your needs.


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