What an interventional cardiologist does and why you may need to see one.

Older man with frown and hand over his heart Interventional cardiologists are doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating heart and blood vessel conditions using very small tubes called catheters. This allows them to use minimally invasive techniques to access the heart and blood vessels without having to make large incisions or do open heart surgery. Of course, not everyone needs to see an interventional cardiologist, but it's helpful to understand when you might need one.

Why would I need to see an interventional cardiologist?

The most common reason you would need one of these cardiac specialists is if it is suspected that you have blocked, damaged or abnormal coronary arteries (the blood vessels leading to your heart). Typically, you would see a general cardiologist if you have symptoms of possible heart disease. Depending on the results of tests such as an electrocardiogram (EKG), echocardiogram, stress test, chest x-ray, cardiac CT scan or cardiac MRI, you may be referred to an interventional cardiologist.

The most common procedure performed by interventional cardiologists is one that uses very thin tubes, called catheters, along with X-rays and contrast dye to see if there is a narrowing or blockage in your coronary arteries. During this procedure, a catheter is inserted into a small incision in the groin or wrist so it can be fed through an artery to the heart. Called a coronary angiogram or cardiac catheterization, doctors can view your arteries clearly and test blood flow. They can also open up blocked arteries if necessary using techniques called angioplasty and stenting.

What are some signs that I might have narrowed or blocked arteries?

You may be referred for a coronary angiogram if you have symptoms of coronary heart disease, such as:

  • Chest pain (angina)
  • Pain in the neck, jaw or arm
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations
  • Dizziness, fatigue or weakness not explained by other health issues

Coronary angiograms are not the first test done if you have heart disease symptoms. This procedure is usually only performed after other tests reveal a probable blockage in one or more coronary arteries. The procedure may also be done as an emergency if you have a heart attack or other cardiac event.

Will I need a stent if I have a coronary angiogram?

If other testing suggests you have a blockage or narrowing of the coronary arteries, a coronary angiogram may be ordered. But just because you have this procedure done doesn't necessarily mean you will need a stent. Sometimes it is revealed that a blockage is not as severe as suspected and a stent is not needed. But if an artery is sufficiently narrowed or blocked, a procedure can be done to open up the artery using a balloon (angioplasty) and stenting while the catheter is already in place.

Are there other reasons I might need to see an interventional cardiologist?

In addition to treating blocked coronary arteries, you may be referred to an interventional cardiologist if you have one of the following conditions and need testing or treatment that can be performed without the need for open heart surgery:

  • Heart valve disease
  • Blood vessel problems
  • Congenital heart problems
  • Chest injury

Although coronary angiograms are the most common procedure done by interventional cardiologists, they may also treat conditions that affect blood vessels throughout the body.

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Date Last Reviewed: May 17, 2024

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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