Cardiologist and Pulmonologist: What’s The Difference?

Medical professionals in the fields of cardiology and pulmonology cover an array of specialties. The general path of these medical professions requires the following prerequisites to be satisfied:

  • Completion of a doctoral degree from a medical school
  • 3 years of training at an accredited residency program residency
  • Pursue specialized training in a fellowship
  • Two to three years of additional training for a sub specialty, if necessary
  • Obtain a board license

Differences in treatment

There’s a significant difference in what illnesses both medical professionals diagnose and treat. The distinction is basic, cardiologists specialize in heart diseases and pulmonologists specialize in the lungs.

Cardiologists provide medical management for the following:

Pulmonologists diagnose and treat the following diseases:

Making the distinction between pulmonologists and cardiologists

Pulmonologists might be confused with cardiologists because symptoms involving the lungs sometimes caused by heart disease.

Pericardial effusion, which is a fluid that sometimes, becomes enlarged and places pressure on the heart, causes shortness of breath.

Similarly, a patient suffering shortness of breath or chest pain, might be diagnosed with angina. Angina is a disease of the heart muscle that prevents adequate oxygen-rich blood flow.

Despite the common symptom in shortness of breath, both of these conditions would  be diagnosed and treated by a cardiologist. Shortness of breath might first be interpreted as a possible lung disease, at which point the patient’s first instinct is to approach a pulmonary doctor.

Likewise, patients might visit a Cardiologist when feeling chest tightness or pain. However, this could be a symptom of a lung disease like cystic fibrosis or emphysema, both treated by a pulmonologist.

Differences and similarities in testing patient

Similarities in testing can be found between cardiologists and pulmonologists, because these procedures are non-invasive.  For example, a pulmonologist performs spirometry testing, which involves a patient breathing into a mouthpiece, and can detect lung diseases such as bronchitis. Cardiologists use a diagnostic tool called an electrocardiogram, which is a non-invasive device used to detect abnormalities of the heart.

Exercise testing is also used in both fields. For cardiology, stress is induced from a treadmill exercise, to measure how the heart will respond to exertion. In pulmonology, an oxygen saturation test requires the patient do light exercise. Heart rate and oxygen saturation will be measured after light exercise.

Within cardiology, if functioning tests do not present a conclusive diagnosis, invasive procedures become necessary to determine the problem. This might involve a cardiac catheterization which explores the arteries to detect any blockage.

Testing in pulmonology generally doesn’t require invasive procedures aside from a test called the arterial blood gas test. This is a simple blood test that detects the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood. The test is more common for patients who have been hospitalized due to serious illnesses.

Specialists occasionally join efforts to treat patients

Some diseases will demand the attention of both specialists depending on how far it escalates. For instance, pulmonary hypertension places abnormal pressure on the heart, forcing it to work harder to pump blood through the lungs. At this stage, a pulmonologist and other specialists will be assigned to treat the disease. If pulmonary hypertension escalates to heart failure, a cardiologist will then become involved to run tests and monitor heart function.

Traits of both specialties are conjoined in what most people commonly refer to as CPR, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Rapid response teams (RRT) are health care providers trained to detect signs and symptoms of respiratory or cardiac arrest, and will often employ the CPR procedure. While cardiologists and pulmonologists aren’t assigned to these RRT groups, a team of highly skilled clinicians improve the care of patients by reducing cardiac and pulmonary episodes and in some cases, mortality rate is drastically reduced.

Finding the right doctor for you

Cardiology and pulmonology are both complex fields and have many sub specialties within them. While symptoms for the heart and lungs can often be identical, and professionals from both fields occasionally assist one another, it’s important to connect to the right specialist and determine what diagnosis and treatment you personally require. Your primary care physician will be able to run tests to find out what specialist suitable for your condition.