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Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023

What is a Cardiovascular Technologist?

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Exploring their role in managing heart disease

People from the South don’t need a special occasion to feast on gumbo, crawfish étouffée, fried chicken, red beans or macaroni and cheese. You know, those culinary masterpieces that have loads of butter, cream, Cajun spices and a variety of meats. These dishes contain high amounts of fat and salt (sodium), but many will argue that the food doesn’t taste right without all the bad-for-your-health ingredients.

These delicacies can cause damage to your heart. Over time, regular consumption of diets with large amounts of salt may lead to high blood pressure, or hypertension. This condition damages arteries and increase the likelihood of fat deposits or plaque buildup on their walls. Coronary artery disease happens when blood vessels are unable to provide enough blood and oxygen to the heart. This reduction in flow causes the patient to have chest pain and feel short of breath. A heart attack is when a blood clot completely blocks flow to an area of the heart.

Cardiovascular technologists use ultrasound equipment to create images that are used by physicians in the management of patients with heart and circulatory (blood vessel) problems. There are three main areas in the field of cardiovascular technology: cardiac sonography, vascular technology and invasive cardiovascular technology. Each of these areas requires specialty training for the tests they perform. Most cardiovascular technologists hold an associate degree or post-secondary certificate, having passed a certification exam.

Cardiac sonographers, also known as echocardiographers, use ultrasound equipment to evaluate cardiac function. During this test, the cardiac sonographer places a probe (called a transducer) on the skin to show blood flow through the heart chambers, valves, and blood vessels. They use special techniques to assess blood flow through the valves and how well the heart pumps. The physician uses this information to diagnose heart disease or other conditions affecting the heart. The test may be normal in patients who only experience chest pain or shortness of breath during exercise. The physician may order a cardiac stress test for these individuals or any patient at risk for heart disease. Cardiac sonographers also perform these tests, which look at how the heart functions during physical activity. Images are taken before and after the patient walks on a treadmill or rides a stationary bicycle. This test can may be used in the diagnosis of coronary artery disease or monitoring of patients recovering from a heart attack.

Vascular technologists perform noninvasive tests on the arteries and veins (vascular system). Plaque can also build up in other vessels around the body. They use ultrasound techniques to see if there are any problems in the vascular system like narrowing (called stenosis), enlarged arteries (known as an aneurysm), or varicose veins. The results help physicians diagnose disorders of the vascular system, some of which can lead to heart attack or stroke.

Invasive cardiovascular technologists, also called cardiovascular invasive specialists, help physicians in the cardiac catheterization lab. During cardiac catheterization, the physician inserts a thin tube, or catheter, into a blood vessel and guides it up to the heart. They may inject contrast or dye through it to highlight the heart’s valves, chambers or blood vessels. Invasive specialists operate the X-ray equipment used to look for narrowing or blockages in the vessels that supply the heart. If there is a blockage, they help the physician treat it on the spot with special catheters that have either a tiny balloon or mesh tube to improve blood flow.

Here locally, at LSU Health Shreveport, we have a program that will offer a Bachelor of Science in cardiovascular technology starting in the summer of 2024. Students will be accepted to the program once a year in the summer semester. After a student completes two years’ worth of undergraduate courses at any accredited college or university, they can complete our program with an additional six semesters. This leads to graduation as a cardiovascular technologist with clinical experience invasive cardiovascular technology and cardiac sonography. Graduates of the program will be highly competitive in the workforce as they will acquire skills that can lead to multiple professional positions in the field of cardiovascular care.

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in Louisiana. Hospitals are expanding cardiovascular care services but will need qualified cardiovascular technologists. Our program is looking for individuals who are fascinated with the heart and have a passion for helping others.

Visit our webpage for more information on this exciting new offering: https://www.lsuhs.edu/departments/allied-health-professionsdepartments/cardiovascular-technology

Michon Revader, DHA, RRT, RRT-NPS, RCS, is an assistant professor of cardiopulmonary science at LSU Health Shreveport School of Allied Health

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