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What is cardiology?

Get to the heart of one of the biggest medical specialties. Read on to find out more.

Cardiology is the branch of medicine that deals with the heart and vascular system, which pumps blood around the body. Doctors who specialise in cardiology are called cardiologists, and treat patients who have suffered heart attacks – otherwise known as cardiac arrests - and other conditions. They also treat patients who were born with heart problems, and try to prevent heart disease.

What do cardiologists do?

There are two main branches of cardiology:

  • Non-invasive cardiology means detecting and diagnosing heart problems using techniques such as blood tests, electrocardiography, where the heart’s electrical activity is examined with an ECG machine, and cardiac stress testing, which looks at how the heart responds to exercise. Non-invasive cardiology may also involve using a defibrillator, which gives a patient an electric shock to start the heart pumping correctly after a cardiac arrest, and prescribing certain drugs.
  • Interventional cardiology means treating heart problems by inserting catheters – or tubes – into a patient’s body. These techniques include anginoplasty, where a tube is inflated inside the arteries to allow the blood to flow properly, and cardiac ablation, where a catheter fitted with an electricity-emitting electrode is inserted into the body to treat people with irregular heart rhythms – or ‘heart flutters’.

Cardiologists will normally be trained in both non-invasive and interventional techniques. They will also deal with patients who have been fitted with pacemakers, which are small devices that use pulses of electricity to prompt the heart to beat at the right rate.

Cardiologists often work closely with cardiac physiologists, who help to diagnose patients with heart problems, and cardiographers, who use electrocardiograph (ECG) and other machines to monitor patients, and sometimes cardiac surgeons, who perform open heart surgery and heart bypass operations.

How do I get into cardiology?

Cardiology is one of the most competitive medical specialties. To qualify as a cardiologist or cardiac surgeon, doctors and surgeons must complete a cardiology or cardiac surgery training programme – which normally lasts around five years – following their initial medical training.

Students interested in becoming cardiac physiologists can study an undergraduate degree or postgraduate course in healthcare science as part of the NHS Practitioner Programme or NHS Scientist Training Programme.

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