The cardiologist in Guatemala diagnoses and treats diseases of the blood vessels, the heart, the circulatory system and the coronary arteries. The coronary arteries are small arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to the entire heart muscle. Blockages can lead to heart attacks. The role of the cardiologist is to diagnose and monitor other conditions that may cause blockages of the coronary arteries, such as high blood pressure and increased malignant fats in the blood. The cardiologist also manages heart rhythm problems and heart failure (see below).

 

What conditions do cardiologists treat?

6 of the most common conditions that the cardiologist treats in Guatemala are:

  • Angina pectoris
  • Heart failure
  • Bradycardia
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Sinus tachycardia
  • Peripheral artery disease

Angina pectoris is a type of chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart. This is a sign of coronary artery disease. In cases where the pain is very severe, lasts for more than 30 minutes, and is not relieved by rest, you should go to the hospital immediately, as these symptoms may signal a heart attack or infarction. Some patients describe the pain as feeling like an “elephant is sitting on your chest. In other cases, angina may occur sporadically, especially after exercise.  This condition requires evaluation by a cardiologist because it can be difficult to differentiate from other types of chest pain, such as pain or discomfort from indigestion.

Heart failure is a condition in which the heart has trouble pumping blood through the body. The main symptoms are a feeling of shortness of breath, which is made worse by less and less effort. A dry cough at night, swelling and fatigue of the ankles and feet, and a feeling of general exhaustion are also common. Heart failure is usually the result of other diseases such as heart attacks, high blood pressure, or inherited heart conditions. It usually occurs in patients 65 years of age or older.

Bradycardia is a decrease in normal heart rate. Typically, an adult’s resting heart beats 60 to 100 times per minute. If you have bradycardia, your heart beats more slowly (less than 60 times per minute). This can be a major problem because the heart is not able to pump the right amount of oxygen-rich blood to the body. However, in some patients, bradycardia causes no signs or complications. Placement of a pacemaker can correct it and help the heart maintain a proper rate.

Coronary heart disease, or coronary artery disease, is a condition in which plaque sits inside the coronary arteries. These arteries provide oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle. As time passes, the plaque hardens and narrows the coronary arteries, reducing the flow of blood to the heart. The changes in blood flow result in the formation of a clot on the surface of the plaque. As the clot grows larger, it can largely or completely block the flow of blood through the coronary artery, causing a heart attack. Plaque is made up of cholesterol, fat, calcium, and other substances in the blood. When plaque settles in the arteries it causes a disease called atherosclerosis.

Sinus tachycardia is a common class of arrhythmia or heart rhythm disorders, in which the heart muscle beats faster than normal. It is common for the heart rate to increase as a physiological response to stress or when we exercise. But in sinus tachycardia, the heart beats faster than usual at rest. Electrical signals sent through the heart’s tissues dictate the heart rate. Sinus tachycardia occurs when an abnormality in the heart creates rapid electrical signals that increase the rate at which it beats. Sometimes this causes no symptoms or complications. But if left untreated, it can disrupt the heart’s normal functioning and lead to serious complications, such as stroke, heart failure, sudden cardiac arrest, or death.

Peripheral artery disease is a common circulatory condition in which the arteries become narrower, causing decreased blood flow to the extremities. When you have peripheral artery disease, the extremities, usually the legs, do not receive adequate blood flow to meet the demand. The main symptom is pain in the leg when walking. This is also likely to be a symptom of a widespread deposit of fat in the arteries. This condition can decrease blood flow to the brain and heart, as well as to the legs. Peripheral artery disease is treatable if it is diagnosed early and you follow your doctor’s instructions. 

 

What are the treatments and procedures in cardiology?

4 of the most common treatments and procedures performed by cardiologists:

  • Electrocardiogram
  • Echocardiogram or echocardiography
  • Pacemaker
  • Cardiac catheterization

The EKG points out the electrical signals of the heart. During the EKG, sensors (electrodes) that reveal the heart’s electrical activity are placed on the chest and sometimes on the extremities. It is a common test used to diagnose heart rhythm irregularities (arrhythmias); blocked or narrowed arteries of the heart (coronary artery disease); structural problems in the heart chambers; a previous heart attack; and how well certain ongoing treatments for heart disease, such as a pacemaker, are working. This is a painless, noninvasive test that provides quick results.

Echocardiogram or echocardiography is an ultrasound that allows you to visualize the heart while it is working. This test can identify blood flow problems in the heart caused by heart valve abnormalities or irregular heart muscle contractions. Echocardiography is a cabinet study where there is no exposure to radiation and allows a lot of information to be obtained.  

The pacemaker is a small device that is placed under the skin of the chest to control the heartbeat. It makes the heart beat more regularly if it has an irregular beat, particularly a slow one like bradycardia. Implanting a pacemaker in your chest requires a surgical procedure.

Cardiac catheterization is a method used to diagnose and treat conditions such as peripheral artery disease or coronary disease. During a cardiac catheterization, a long, thin tube called a “catheter” is inserted into an artery or vein in the arm, groin, or neck and passed through the blood vessels to the site of the problem. Some procedures for heart disease, such as coronary stenting and coronary angioplasty, are also performed with cardiac catheterization. Usually, the patient is awake, but will be given medicine to help him or her relax. Recovery time is rapid and the risk of complications is low.