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Heart, blood, and blood vessel disorders are treated by specialists known as cardiologists, hematologists, and vascular surgeons. In this lesson, we’ll learn exactly what each of these medical specialists do and the types of conditions that they treat.

Cardiovascular Specialists

Patient: Hello! I have been having some medical problems, and I hope you can help me. I know I need to see a doctor who treats cardiovascular system disorders, but I learned that there are three different types of cardiovascular doctors: cardiologists, hematologists, and vascular surgeons. I’m not sure exactly which one could help me, so could you come with me to interview these different types of medical specialists that diagnose and treat disorders of the cardiovascular system? Thanks!

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The Cardiologist

Patient: Let’s go see a cardiologist first and find out what he can do!Cardiologist Carl: Hello! I’m Cardiologist Carl.

Welcome to my office.Patient: Hi, Cardiologist Carl. I’m trying to learn more about what cardiologists do.

Can you tell me what you do and what kinds of patients that you treat?Carl: Certainly! I am a cardiologist, which means that I treat disorders and diseases of the heart. In Greek, ‘cardia’ means heart and ‘logia’ means study, so cardiology is the study of the heart. I diagnose and treat patients with coronary artery disease, heart valve defects and diseases, heart failure, and problems with the electrical functioning of the heart – a branch of cardiology called electrophysiology.Patient: That sounds interesting! Do you treat both children and adults?Carl: I only treat adults. Other cardiologists, called pediatric cardiologists, treat children and babies with heart disorders.

The disorders that babies and children commonly suffer from are different from those of adults, so in most cases, a cardiologist specializes in treating either children or adults.Patient: So, how did you become a cardiologist? Did you receive some special training that other doctors did not get?Carl: It takes a long time and a lot of special training to become a cardiologist! First, I had to graduate from medical school. Then, I completed a three-year residency in internal medicine and another three-year residency in adult cardiology. Pediatric cardiologists follow a similar process, but they have to complete residencies in pediatrics and pediatric cardiology.Patient: Wow! That’s a lot of training! I bet you can really do a lot. What kinds of treatments do you commonly perform?Carl: I often use techniques like ultrasound to visualize the heart and use electrodes to measure the electrical activity of the heart in a procedure known as an electrocardiogram, or ECG.

Sometimes, I have to perform surgery to open or bypass blocked coronary arteries, repair and replaced damaged heart valves, and implant pacemakers to regulate the heartbeat rhythm.Patient: Thank you for this information, Cardiologist Carl! Let me make sure I have it correct. Cardiologists like you treat disorders and diseases of the heart, and there are two types of cardiologists, adult and pediatric, that treat patients of different ages. You diagnose patients using techniques like ultrasound and ECG and then surgically treat blocked blood vessels, heart valves, or heart rhythm problems. Is this right?Carl: That’s right! If I can help you with any heart problems you may be having, just let me know. That’s my job!

The Hematologist

Patient: Let’s go visit a different type of doctor next, a hematologist.

Heema: Hello! Welcome to my office. I am Heema, the hematologist. What can I help you with today?Patient: I want to learn about what you do as a hematologist.

What kinds of disorders and diseases do you commonly treat?Heema: Well, as a hematologist, I study, diagnose, and treat diseases of the blood. This includes diseases that affect the bone marrow, since that’s where blood cells are made.Patient: What are some examples of diseases that affect the blood or bone marrow?Heema: I can diagnose and treat any disorder of the blood, including problems with blood cells, proteins found in the blood, and blood vessels. I often treat patients with anemia or blood clotting disorders, which means that their blood clots either too quickly or too slowly.

As a hematologist, I can also be part of a team of doctors treating patients with cancers of the bone marrow and blood, like leukemia and lymphoma. These are cancers that cause your body to make too many immature white blood cells. A hematologist is able to diagnose this right away by looking at a sample of your blood under a microscope.Patient: Do you deal with disorders of the heart, too, like a cardiologist?Heema: Not usually, although some diseases might be treated by a hematologist and cardiologist working together.

For example, some conditions make your blood more likely to clot. This can increase your risk of having heart attacks and strokes if the blood clot happens inside a blood vessel. This type of disorder would probably be treated by both types of doctors.Patient: Oh, okay, that makes sense. How did you become a hematologist? Did you go to school for a long time?Heema: Yes! I went to medical school for four years, and then completed a three-year residency in internal medicine and a three-year fellowship in hematology.

Patient: That is a long time! Before I go, let me make sure I understand what you’ve told me. Hematologists study all types of diseases of the blood, including diseases affecting the cells in the blood and the bone marrow. Hematologists treat patients with blood clotting disorders, anemia, and blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma. Is that all correct?Heema: Sure is! Thanks for stopping by. Let me know if I can help you. Bye!

The Vascular Surgeon

Patient: Now we are at the vascular surgeon’s office.

Let’s go in and find out what she does.Valerie: Hello! I’m Valerie the Vascular Surgeon. How can I help you today?Patient: I’m trying to learn about all the medical specialists of the cardiovascular system, and I think you can help me. Can you tell me more about what you do as a vascular surgeon?Valerie: I would be happy to help you with that! As a vascular surgeon, I treat diseases of the blood vessels outside the heart and brain. As you probably already learned, disorders of the heart, including the blood vessels of the heart, are treated by a cardiologist.Patient: So what are some of the diseases that you might treat as a vascular surgeon?Valerie: One of the main conditions I treat is an aneurysm, which occurs when a portion of a blood vessel wall expands. This makes the vessel weaker and can cause it to rupture if I don’t fix it.

I also surgically open blocked blood vessels in the peripheral circulation, and treat patients with varicose veins, which are enlarged, painful veins, typically in the legs.Patient: It sounds like you do a lot of things! Do you always perform surgery, or can you treat patients in other ways as well?Valerie: I do often treat patients with major surgery, but I also help manage vascular disorders using medications and perform minimally invasive catheter procedures, which allow me to repair blood vessels while sparing the patient from a fully-open surgery.Patient: This sounds really interesting. How did you become a vascular surgeon? Is there a special school for that?Valerie: There’s not a special school, but after graduating from medical school, I had to have an additional five years of training in general and vascular surgery before I could work on my own.Patient: Thanks for the information. Let me review it to make sure I have it all straight. As a vascular surgeon, you treat disorders of the peripheral blood vessels like aneurysms and varicose veins, but you don’t treat the heart.

That’s what a cardiologist does. Is that all correct?Valerie: Sounds good! I think you have it. Just let me know if you need any more information from me.

Determining The Right Doctor

Patient: Now that I have talked to all of these medical specialists, I think I’m ready to make a decision.

Let me tell you about my symptoms, and see if you agree with me. My ankles hurt after I have to stand up for a long time, and I have big, swollen, purple veins that you can see under the skin around my ankles. Pause the video for a moment, and see if you can figure out which doctor I should see. Did you pick Valerie the Vascular Surgeon? That’s what I think, too! It seems like I might have varicose veins, and she said that she could help people with any blood vessel disorder that didn’t involve the heart.

I think I’ll call for an appointment today. Thanks for your help!

Lesson Summary

Patient: I really learned a lot about medical specialists of the cardiovascular system today. Did you learn something too? I learned that cardiologists treat disorders and diseases of the heart like coronary artery disease, heart valve disorders, electrophysiology problems, and heart failure; hematologists treat diseases of the blood and bone marrow, like anemia, clotting disorders, and leukemia; and vascular surgeons treat diseases of the blood vessels outside the heart and brain, such as aneurysms and varicose veins.

Learning Outcomes

After you have finished, you should be able to:

  • Identify the three types of cardiovascular doctors
  • Describe the areas of expertise and medical conditions covered by each type of cardiovascular specialists

Medical Disclaimer: The information on this site is for your information only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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