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FAQs About Cardiology
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What is the ACC?

ACC was chartered and incorporated as a teaching institution in 1949, and established its headquarters, called Heart House, in Bethesda, Maryland in 1977.

In 2006, the College moved its headquarters to Heart House Washington, D.C., a state-of-the-art facility in the nation's capital. Heart House D.C. was designed to accommodate a bigger, better, bolder organization. It offers outstanding access to hotels, amenities, cultural attractions, health care partners and lawmakers. Visit the ACC at 2400 N Street NW, Washington, DC 20037.

The mission of the American College of Cardiology is to advocate for quality cardiovascular care—through education, research promoion, development and application of standards and guidelines—and to influence health care policy.

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What is a Cardiologist?

A cardiologist is a physician who deals with diseases of the heart (cardio=heart, logist = person who studies). After medical school, to become a cardiologist a physician must finish three years (at least) of Internal Medicine - so all cardiologists are board certified in Internal Medicine and are therefore "Internists". After completing their training in Internal Medicine, they move to a part of their training called "fellowship" and they become "Fellows" or "Cardiology Fellows" in the training program to which they have been accepted. They are Fellows for between three and six years and then take the "Boards" or "Cardiology Boards" or the "Cardiology Board Exams". After passing the "Boards" they become "Board Certified in Cardiovascular Disease" or more commonly, "Board Certified in Cardiology".

Cardiologists evaluate and treat diseases of the cardiovascular system. Examples of this would include:

Hypertention - High blood pressure Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) or Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD) - which is where arteries outside of the heart become blocked Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) - blockage of the arteries of the heart Arrhythmia - slow or fast heartbeats Valvular Heart disease - problems with the valves of the heart - either they are blocked or they leak Heart Failure - problems with the heart muscle Aneurysms - A problem where an artery enlarges and may burst

All of these diseases require very specialized tests and treatments, and this is the reason so much training is required before becoming a "Cardiologist".

One important thing to remember is that there is a difference between a "Cardiologist" and a "Cardiac Surgeon". A "Cardiac Surgeon" or "Cardiothoracic Surgeon" is someone who actually does surgery on the heart and the blood vessels. This means they open the chest of the patient, will often place the patient on a heart-lung machine and perform complex surgery to repair a problem". "Cardiac Surgeons" are all Board Certified in General Surgery, then go on to complete seven years of training in heart surgery. A Cardiologist will send a patient to a cardiac surgeon for complex surgical procedures.

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Is a Cardiologist Board Certified?

At each stage of their training, these specialists must pass rigorous exams that test their knowledge and judgment, as well as their ability to provide superior care.

Cardiologists, pediatric cardiologists, and cardiac surgeons must first become board-certified in their primary specialty (internal medicine, pediatrics, and surgery respectively), and then certified in their subspecialty (cardiology, pediatric cardiology, and cardiothoracic surgery respectively).

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My Cardiologist has F.A.C.C. after his name, what does it mean?

If your cardiology specialist adds F.A.C.C. - Fellow of the American College of Cardiology - to his or her name, it is a sign of significant accomplishment and commitment to a profession, to a specialty, and to the provision of the best health care for the patient.

Election to ACC membership is based on training, specialty board certification, scientific and professional accomplishments, length of active participation in a cardiovascular-related field, and peer recognition. Members are expected to conform to high moral and ethical standards.

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How do I know if my child needs a cardiologist?

Children who have heart murmurs are often referred for evaluation. Many of these turn out to be normal and no follow-up by the pediatric cardiologist is necessary. About one in every 100 babies is born with heart disease (congenital heart disease) which requires a pediatric cardiologist's care.

Referrals are also made for cyanosis ("blue-baby" condition), rapid breathing, heart enlargement, high blood pressure, infections involving the heart and blood vessels, chest pain, heart rhythm disturbances, fainting episodes, and questions about participation in sports. Some pediatric cardiologists see and advise congenital heart patients into adulthood.

The skills of a pediatric cardiologist are required whenever decisions are made about procedures such as heart catheterization and heart surgery. The pediatric cardiologist may also advise about the prevention of heart attacks in later life and screen for high cholesterol levels.

A pediatric cardiologist usually serves as a consultant to other doctors. Your pediatrician may recommend a pediatric cardiologist, or you may choose one for your child. As your child's cardiac care proceeds, your pediatric cardiologist will guide the care and plan tests and treatments with the doctors and nurses who are looking after your child. If heart surgery is indicated, your child's pediatric cardiologist and cardiac surgeon work as a team. In follow-up, the pediatric cardiologist keeps you, your pediatrician, and/or surgeon informed.

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How does my Cardiologist work with my primary care doctor?

The cardiologist usually serves as a consultant to other doctors, although many provide general medical care for their patients. Your primary care physician may recommend a cardiologist or you may choose one yourself. As your cardiac care proceeds, your cardiologist will guide your care and plan tests and treatment with the doctors and nurses who are looking after you.

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When should I be referred to a Cardiologist?

Any time you have a significant heart or related condition, you may require the attention of a cardiologist. Symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pains, or dizzy spells often require special testing. Heart murmurs or ECG changes are best evaluated by a cardiologist. Most importantly, cardiologists treat heart attacks, heart failure, and serious heart rhythm disturbances. Their skills and training are required for decisions about heart catheterization, balloon angioplasty, heart surgery, and other procedures.

Diagnostic tests which may be necessary Your cardiologist will review your medical history and perform a physical examination which may include checking your blood pressure, weight, heart, lungs, and blood vessels. While some problems may be diagnosed from this examination, your cardiologist may order an ECG, X-ray, or blood tests. In addition, an ambulatory ECG, echocardiogram, exercise test, heart catheterization and/or nuclear imaging may be required.

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How do I know if I need a Cardiac Surgeon?

If your general medical doctor, pediatrician, or cardiologist feels that surgery may be the best treatment for your heart condition and that medication alone will not be enough, then you will be referred to a cardiac surgeon for further evaluation. The surgeon will review your medical records and test, especially the heart catheterization results, if bypass, cardiac valve, or heart surgery for a congenital defect is being considered. The cardiac surgeon will then discuss your case with you and your doctors, to give further advice about the risks and benefits of surgery.

Cardiac surgeons perform many operations - coronary artery bypass, pacemaker insertion, heart rhythm surgery, valve replacement or repairs, heart transplants, and repairs of complex heart problems present from birth (congenital heart disease). They are also qualified to operate on organs other than the heart, such as the lungs, esophagus, and blood vessels.

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How much training does a Cardiologist receive?

After four years of medical school, these highly-trained doctors spend from six to eight more years in specialized training. A cardiologist receives three years of training in internal medicine and three or more years in specialized cardiology training. A pediatric cardiologist receives three years of training in pediatrics, and three or more years in specialized pediatric cardiology training. A cardiac surgeon must complete five years of training in general surgery before starting a two-or three-year cardiothoracic training program. Some cardiac surgeons have additional training to perform pediatric or transplant surgery.

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