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During their initial interview, cardiologists review the patient's medical history. After taking the medical history, cardiologists then perform a physical examination. This is their first opportunity to listen to the patient's heart. Often, a cardiologist can tell if there is a cardiac problem by listening to the rhythm of the heartbeat. For example, when examining a patient for a heart murmur (an abnormal sound), cardiologists will be able to tell if it is an innocent murmur, or whether it could cause problems.
There are several tests cardiologists use to aid in patient evaluation and diagnosis. The most common test is the electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG). An ECG measures the electrical activity produced by heart contractions and outputs a graph illustrating this. Many problems can be detected through ECGs.
Cardiac catheterization is another type of test. A small tube is inserted through a blood vessel into or near the heart. This procedure is used to take pictures of the heart, which cardiologists can use for diagnosis as well as to evaluate the body's electrical system and, in some cases, to remove obstructions.
Another test is the echocardiogram. During this procedure, high-pitched sounds, inaudible to the human ear, are sent into the body. Their echoes are plotted by a transducer to create a picture of the heart. A stress echocardiogram evaluates the heart to measure the supply of blood going to the muscles before and after exercise.
After a diagnosis is made, cardiologists prescribe treatment, which may include drugs, such as blood pressure medications or blood thinners, or lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise. If surgery is required, cardiologists refer patients to thoracic surgeons. Even though cardiologists do not perform surgery, many surgeons request cardiologists to consult in the preoperative phase of treatment.
A patient may not necessarily have symptoms of heart disease but may have risk factors. These might include a family history of heart problems, history of smoking or obesity, or presence of diseases like diabetes. In such cases, cardiologists often provide information and advice to their patients regarding the prevention of cardiac disease.
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