We are enumerating information below outlining the distinction between cardiologists, cardiac surgeons and cardio-thoracic surgeons.
We have also noted the common types of conditions that each medical discipline manages and they types of tests conducted. The links to the sites are also noted below for reference.
Cardiologist – a cardiologist receives medical training and can diagnose heart disease and work on managing the disease through medication and lifestyle changes. While a cardiologist can diagnose and treat many heart conditions, but if you require surgery, your cardiologist will refer you to a cardiac surgeon. A cardiologist will follow your path before and after surgery to help manage your condition, and will continue to follow up with you in the long term. They do not conduct surgeries.
Cardiac-Surgeon – a cardiac surgeon receives surgical training and specializes in surgery on your heart and the major blood vessels that carry blood to and from your heart. A cardiac surgeon will be involved before, during, and immediately after your surgery. The cardiac surgeon corrects issues surgically.
Cardio-thoracic surgeon – a cardiothoracic surgeon also receives surgical training and operates on some of the most vital organs in your body, such as your heart, lungs, esophagus and trachea. Your heart and lungs are some of your body’s most vital organs, providing blood and oxygen to your whole body.
What is a cardiothoracic surgeon?
A cardiothoracic surgeon is a doctor who performs surgery on the organs in your chest, such as your heart, lungs and esophagus. Your heart and lungs are some of your body’s most vital organs, providing blood and oxygen to your whole body.
After medical school, cardiothoracic surgeons spend six to eight years of training in surgery. This gives them a combination of general and cardiothoracic surgical training. After that, some spend even more time learning about a specific area of cardiothoracic surgery, such as heart issues babies have when they’re born.
What does a cardiothoracic surgeon do?
A cardiothoracic surgeon treats people with diseases or injuries in their chest. They diagnose them and discuss treatment options, do the surgery and follow up with people after they’ve had surgery.
Cardiothoracic surgeons can treat some of the most well-known organs in your body and some parts of the body you haven’t heard about.
They can treat these areas of your body:
- Heart and the pericardium around it.
- Coronary arteries.
- Chest wall.
- Mediastinum (area between your lungs).
- Lungs and the pleura (linings) that surround them.
Types of cardiothoracic surgeons
- Cardiac surgeon.
- Congenital heart surgeon.
- Cardiovascular surgeon.
- General thoracic surgeon.
- Transplant surgeon.
What diseases does a cardiothoracic surgeon treat?
A cardiothoracic surgeon can treat a variety of issues in your chest, such as:
- Coronary artery disease and other heart diseases.
- Atrial fibrillation.
- Issues with your aorta like aneurysms.
- Heart transplant.
- Lung transplant.
- Lung disease, such as cancer.
- Esophageal disease, such as cancer.
- Heart failure.
- Problems with swallowing.
- Chest injury from an accident.
- Congenital (since birth) heart defects that affect how your heart functions.
- Hiatal hernias.
- Chest wall issues that involve muscle and bone.
- Aneurysms in chest arteries.
- Heart valves that aren’t working right.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
What is the difference between a cardiac surgeon and a cardiothoracic surgeon?
A cardiac surgeon specializes in surgery on your heart and the major blood vessels that carry blood to and from your heart. A cardiothoracic surgeon operates on anything in your chest: your heart, lungs, esophagus and trachea.
What kind of tests does a cardiothoracic surgeon do?
Your cardiothoracic surgeon will order tests to diagnose your condition. Depending on which symptoms you have, your tests may include:
- Chest X-ray.
- CT (computed tomography) scan.
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).
- Electrocardiogram (EKG).
- Cardiac catheterization.
- Multigated acquisition (MUGA) scan.
- Exercise stress test.
- Holter monitor.
- Pulmonary function test.
- Pulse oximetry (oxygen level).
- Upper endoscopy.
- Esophageal manometry.
When to see a cardiothoracic surgeon
Most of the time, another healthcare provider will refer you to a cardiothoracic surgeon. In some cases, it’s your primary care provider. In other cases, a specialist like a pulmonologist might refer you. This can happen when medicine or procedures are no longer enough to treat your condition and you need surgery. Also, you may seek out a second opinion from a second cardiothoracic surgeon.
What to expect at a cardiothoracic surgeon appointment
Your cardiothoracic surgeon will do a physical exam and talk with you about your symptoms. Your family history is important, especially for heart conditions. Some heart issues run in families. Be prepared to talk about who in your family has had heart issues, as well as what type.
Your surgeon will want to review any test results you have. If the tests were done a while ago, they may want you to repeat them. Also, they’ll need to know which medicines you’re taking.
After your cardiothoracic surgeon examines you and reviews your information, they may prescribe medicine for you. Also, they may tell you they need current test results before deciding what to do next. If they have all the information they need to understand your situation, they might talk with you about treatment options.
Do I need a referral to see a cardiothoracic surgeon?
Check with your insurance plan to find out if you need a referral. You’ll most likely get one from the healthcare provider who diagnoses your problem and can’t fix it with medicine or a minor procedure. Providers who might refer you to a cardiothoracic surgeon include your:
- Cardiologist who cares for your heart.
- Pulmonologist who cares for your lungs.
- Primary care provider who treats minor health issues.
- Gastroenterologist who helps you with digestive issues.
What does a cardiothoracic surgeon specialize in?
Cardiothoracic surgeons can specialize in these types of surgery:
- Heart and lung transplant.
- Heart problems people have when they’re born (congenital).
Where do cardiothoracic surgeons work?
Cardiothoracic surgeons work in hospitals and in private practice. Some work in research or teach medical students.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Cardiothoracic surgeons operate on some of the most vital organs in your body. The surgeries they do are often complex. Be sure to ask your surgeon questions about anything you don’t understand about your surgery. They’ll want you to be clear on why you need a certain surgery and how it can help you with your medical problem. After your surgery, keep taking all medicines your cardiothoracic surgeon (and other providers) prescribed for you. Follow the instructions you receive for caring for yourself or your loved one after surgery. Appointments after surgery are important, too. They help your cardiothoracic surgeon see how well you’re healing.
Cardiologist can diagnose and treat many heart conditions, but if you require surgery, your cardiologist will refer you to a cardiac surgeon. Below, Cardiothoracic Surgeon Murtaza Dawood, MD, explains some of the differences between a cardiac surgeon and a cardiologist.
Is a cardiac surgeon also a cardiologist?
No, a cardiologist receives medical training while a cardiac surgeon receives surgical training. If you need surgery, a cardiac surgeon will be involved before, during, and immediately after your surgery. In many cases, once you have recovered, you will not need to continue to follow up with your surgeon. Your cardiologist will follow your path before and after surgery to help manage your condition, and will continue to follow up with you in the long term. For example, a cardiologist can diagnose heart disease and work on managing the disease through medication and lifestyle changes. The surgeon, on the other hand, surgically corrects the issue.
Why would I need a cardiac surgeon if I already have a cardiologist?
Cardiac surgeons work with your cardiologist to improve an abnormality or a disease process that needs surgery. Some examples of why you need a cardiac surgeon could be heart disease requiring a coronary artery bypass surgery (CABG), severe heart valves disease, or pathologies of the aorta. To get the full benefit of the surgery, you may have to take medications or make a lifestyle or diet change. In this case, your cardiac surgeon and cardiologist will work together to help you reach your goals.
What procedures do cardiac surgeons do?
Cardiac surgeons can fix many issues such as blocked heart vessels, congenital or degenerative valve diseases, diseases of the aorta, and tumor or mass removal involving the heart. Cardiac surgeons can also perform surgeries in emergencies, such as heart injury from trauma.
If I have a blockage, can I get a stent instead of surgery?
An interventional cardiologist can use stents, which are delivered by catheters in your artery of the arm or leg, to reach the vessels of your heart causing the blockages. However, some blockages will require surgery as it could provide a better or more durable treatment, especially if you have multiple blockages. For example, some blockages could be in areas that are difficult to open with a stent. In other situations, a combination of stents and surgery can treat a blockage. Keep in mind that fixing a blockage does not solve the underlying problem that lead to the blockage, so it is possible to require stents after surgery or vice versa. Talk to your provider about decreasing your risk for future blockages.
Cardiologists and cardiothoracic surgeons play different and equally important roles in the care of a patient with Heart Disease, as McLeod Cardiologist Alan Blaker explains: Cardiologists will generally handle the diagnosis and medical treatment or nonsurgical procedures like balloon angioplasty, coronary stents, ablation procedures or devices like pacemakers or defibrillators. Cardiothoracic surgeons will handle bypass surgery and surgical valve replacement procedures. After surgery the patient will usually follow up with a cardiologist long term once released by the surgeon. Some newer procedures actually involve the talents of both cardiologists and cardiothoracic surgery such as TAVR or percutaneous valve replacement procedures.
Here are a few points from Dr. Blaker’s video:
- The cardiologist’s role is to evaluate and treat medically (without surgery) heart problems.
- Cardiologists also perform procedures, such as heart catheterizations, angioplasty (inserting balloons in arteries to clear them), and placing stents to keep arteries open.
- Cardiothoracic Surgeons generally perform surgery of the heart and chest.
- Cardiologists work with surgeons to manage patients and determine whether the patient needs surgery.
- They might also work together to treat irregular heart beat problems.
- Before surgery, the cardiologist will perform a full evaluation.
- The surgeon will manage the patient immediately after the surgery with help, if needed, from the cardiologist.
- Once the patient is recovering at home and after the surgeon has released the patient from his care, the cardiologist will follow them over the long-term.
SEE DISCLAIMER IN ABOUT PAGE