Harvard Heart Letter

Do you need a cardiologist?

Your primary care provider should help you control risks for heart disease and refer you to a cardiologist if needed.

patient and cardiologist

Any primary care provider you see—a doctor, nurse practitioner, or physician's assistant—should offer detailed advice on how to lessen your odds of cardiovascular disease, which is responsible for one in three deaths in the United States. However, some people need more specialized care for their hearts.

"I see or hear from a lot of people who have very common problems, like high cholesterol and high blood pressure, who think they need to see a cardiologist," says Dr. Patrick O'Gara, a cardiologist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital. For many people, a primary care physician can effectively manage those problems. But if you have specific concerns, talk to your doctor about whether more specialized care might be beneficial, says Dr. O'Gara.

Generalists vs. specialists

For more targeted cardiovascular care, the best recommendation is typically from your primary care provider, who may refer you to either a general cardiologist or a subspecialist (see "Heart disease specialists"). General cardiologists have broad knowledge about the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of a range of cardiovascular diseases, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol as well as heart attacks, heart rhythm disorders, heart valve problems, and disorders of the blood vessels. These doctors are often in the best position to decide if you need even more focused expertise from a cardiology subspecialist.

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