One of the most important decisions you will make after you have been diagnosed with heart failure is whom you choose to be your doctor. Your doctor will confirm the diagnosis and design a treatment plan for your heart failure and will be responsible for monitoring the progression of the disease and the effectiveness of the treatments. It is very important that you choose a doctor who is qualified to manage your heart failure. It is also important that you have a doctor with whom you feel comfortable sharing information about your symptoms and experiences.
What types of doctors can treat heart failure? All medical doctors have some knowledge about how to diagnose and treat heart failure. Doctors who treat people with heart failure include:
In the treatment of heart failure, there will be a relationship between your primary care doctor and the doctors who specialize in treating your heart (specialists). Each type of doctor has a unique set of skills and may play a specific role in the management of your disease. Your initial tests to diagnose heart failure will probably be ordered by a primary care doctor, but some of these tests may need to be performed or interpreted by a cardiologist. Your primary care doctor may be a general practitioner.
Which type of doctor is the best for you? Internists and cardiologists are the two most common types of doctors responsible for treating heart failure. Cardiologists usually focus on treating people with more severe forms of the disease. The needs of each person with heart failure are different based on factors such as the cause of heart failure, the severity of the disease, and the age of the person. Recently there have been a number of studies that compare how well internists manage heart failure treatments compared with cardiologists. Some evidence suggests that cardiologists may achieve better outcomes in treating heart failure.
What other types of doctors treat heart failure? In recent years, many physician practices have employed nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs) to help in the care of people with heart failure. These professionals have had advanced training in many aspects of general medicine. They extend the level of care a doctor can provide, because they can evaluate and treat many of the routine problems that arise in people who have heart failure. When more complex decision-making is required or when the severity or complexity of the problems surpasses the usual, NPs and PAs then can consult with the heart failure specialist.
When is a cardiologist referral needed? Your primary care doctor will usually decide whether to refer you to a cardiologist for treatment of your heart failure. Most doctors agree that there are certain situations when people with heart failure should always be referred to a cardiologist. In these situations, the complexity of the heart failure requires a specialist's knowledge and attention.
If you fit into one of the categories below and your primary care doctor has not referred you to a cardiologist, you should discuss the possibility of a referral to a cardiologist. As heart failure progresses and approaches end-stage, some people should be seen by a heart failure specialist. Usually your general cardiologist will refer you, but your general physician may do so.
Last Revised: April 26, 2012
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