If you have signs of a heart problem, your doctor may send you to a cardiologist, or heart specialist.\nCardiologists work closely with primary care doctors, as well as heart and vascular surgeons, to care for people with many types of heart and blood vessel conditions.\nFind out how cardiologists diagnose and treat heart and blood vessel problems, and what questions to ask at your first visit.\nWhat Is a Cardiologist?\nA cardiologist is a doctor who diagnoses, treats, and helps prevent heart and blood vessel conditions. To become a cardiologist, a doctor must undergo several years of training, including:\n\nFour years of medical school\nThree years of general internal medicine training\nThree or more years in specialized cardiology training\n\nMany cardiologists also choose to become board-certified by taking a rigorous exam that measures their expertise in diagnostics, patient care, and patient education.\nWhat Do Cardiologists Treat?\nCardiologists diagnose, treat, and manage many types of heart and blood vessel conditions, including:\n\nCoronary artery disease, also known as heart disease, which occurs when the blood vessels that bring nutrients to your heart are blocked\nHeart attack, which happens when blood flow to your heart is blocked\nHeart failure, which happens when your heart can’t pump effectively\nHeart rhythm problems, also called arrhythmias, which happens when your heart beats too fast, too slow, or in an irregular way\nValve problems, which happen when your heart valves don’t open or close properly\n\nCardiologists can also help you prevent heart disease through risk assessments, which look at your family history, medical history, and lifestyle. If you are at risk for a heart problem, your cardiologist can suggest lifestyle changes that may help lower your risk and recommend regular health screenings to keep an eye on your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and other risk factors.\nDiagnosing heart problems\nTo make a diagnosis, your cardiologist will start by talking with you about your medical history, lifestyle, and symptoms, and by giving you a physical exam. He or she may also order tests that show how well your heart works, including:\n\nAn electrocardiogram, which measures your heart rate and rhythm\nAn echocardiogram, which creates pictures of your heart\nA stress test, which shows how well your heart works during activity\nA cardiac catheterization, which can show blocked arteries and other heart problems\n\nTreating heart problems\nYour cardiologist will develop a treatment plan based on your diagnosis, as well as your medical history, symptoms, and lifestyle. Some treatments can include:\n\nLifestyle changes that can help lower your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels, help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, quit smoking, and manage stress\nMedications to control high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or heart rate or rhythm\nCatheter-based procedures that can open blocked arteries or fix heart rhythm problems\nIn more serious cases, surgery\n\nHow to Talk to Your Cardiologist\nBefore your appointment, it’s a good idea to write down a list of your symptoms. Your cardiologist will want to know:\n\nWhat symptoms you have\nWhen your symptoms started\nIf you have chest pain, what your chest pain feels like\nWhat makes your symptoms worse; for example, do you feel worse when walking?\nWhat makes your symptoms better; for example, do you feel better when you rest?\nIf you have pain in other parts of your body; for example, your jaw, neck, back, arms, or shoulders\nWhat medications you take\n\nSome questions you may want to ask, even if they might seem simple, can include:\n\nWhat is my diagnosis?\nDo I need other tests?\nWhat can I expect during these tests?\nWhat are my treatment options?\nWhat are the benefits and risks of each type of treatment?\nWhat lifestyle changes should I make?\n\nTo learn more, visit the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute or call 1-855-UPMC-HVI (876-2484).