What is a Pediatric Cardiologist?
If your pediatrician has a question about your child’s heart, he or she may refer your child to a pediatric cardiologist. Pediatric cardiologists specialize in diagnosing and treating heart problems in children. In those children who might need heart surgery, pediatric cardiologists work closely with pediatric heart surgeons to determine the best treatments and interventions.
A number of heart conditions can affect children. Some are structural differences they are born with. Others involve the electrical system that controls the heartbeat. Pediatric cardiologists are specially trained to diagnose and manage these problems. If you have a concern about your child’s heart, please discuss with your pediatrician whether referral to a pediatric cardiologist is needed.
What kind of training do pediatric cardiologists have?
Pediatric cardiologists are medical doctors who have completed
- At least four years of medical school
- Three years of pediatric residency
- Three or more years of fellowship training in pediatric cardiology
Some pediatric cardiologists spend the last 1 to 2 years of fellowship focusing on special skills to diagnose and treat heart problems in children. Common focus areas include
- Advanced imaging methods such as MRI, CT, and ultrasound
- Heart catheterization procedures and interventions
- The heart’s electrical system (Electrophysiology or “EP”)
- Heart failure and heart transplant
- Care of children in the cardiac ICU
- Adults with heart differences they were born with (Adult Congenital Heart Disease or “ACHD”)
A pediatric cardiologist typically:
- Evaluates a patient’s medical history and educates the child and family about heart health and heart disease prevention
- Performs a physical exam including evaluation of blood pressure and vital signs, weight, and the health of the heart, lungs, and blood vessels
- Orders and interprets laboratory and imaging tests and prescribes medications
- Diagnoses and treats acute and chronic diseases and conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels, including arrhythmias and congenital heart disease
- Screens, treats and monitors conditions known to increase the risk of adult heart disease in children, such as hypertension, smoking, obesity, and high cholesterol. For some complex risks, such as having diabetes, a pediatric cardiologist will provide referrals to other specialists such as a pediatric endocrinologist.
- Performs procedures, such as EKG, echocardiogram, and cardiac catheterization
- Works closely with your child’s primary care doctor and other specialists to provide optimal care
Nature of the work
Paediatric cardiology is concerned with diseases of the heart in the growing and developing individual. As well as expertise in heart disease, paediatric cardiologists also need a thorough grounding in general paediatrics, in order to provide all-round patient care.
Paediatric cardiologists broadly treat congenital heart disease (present at birth), arrhythmias (variations in heartbeat rhythm) and disturbances of circulatory function.
The initial assessment performed by the paediatric cardiologist might start with a physical examination using a stethoscope, after which more detailed investigations may be suggested.
Patients often present with complex diagnostic and medical problems and after the initial assessment the paediatric cardiologist then chooses an optimal management plan. They work closely with a wide range of specialists as part of a multidisciplinary team to assess and treat patients.
Paediatric cardiologists play a vital role in the teaching of medical students, doctors. GPs, nurses and paramedical staff. Most are also involved in research.
Who should see a pediatric cardiologist?
Your pediatrician or family doctor can often monitor your child’s general heart health, but will refer your child to a pediatric cardiologist for diagnosed or suspected heart or blood vessel problems, such as a heart murmur. In some cases, an obstetrician-gynecologist will refer a pregnant woman to a pediatric cardiologist to diagnose a possible heart problem or birth defect in the fetus.
Seeing an experienced pediatric cardiologist for early treatment or preventive care before serious complications occur is the best way to ensure optimal heart health for your child and reduce the risk of permanent heart or organ damage, disability, and other life-threatening problems.
When should you see a pediatric cardiologist?
You should seek care for your child from a pediatric cardiologist under the following situations:
- Your child has serious risk factors for adult heart disease including obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol.
- Your child has unusual changes in an EKG test.
- Your child has a form of heart disease that requires ongoing monitoring and specialized care including arrhythmia and heart valve disorders.
- Your child needs specialized heart procedures including cardiac catheterization or echocardiogram.
- You are pregnant and your doctor finds or suspects that your baby has a heart problem.
- Your child has undergone surgery for a congenital heart disease and requires ongoing management through adulthood.
- Your child has a congenital heart disease that requires ongoing medical management through adulthood, such as complex arrhythmias that require a pacemaker or implantable defibrillator.