Heart and vascular services

The body's cardiovascular, or circulatory, system is made of the heart, blood, and blood vessels (arteries and veins).

Heart and vascular services refers to the branch of medicine that focuses on the cardiovascular system.


The heart's main job is to pump oxygen-rich blood to the body. It normally does this 60 - 100 times a minute, 24 hours a day.

The heart is made of four chambers, two on each side:

  • The left atrium and right atrium are located in the upper part of the heart. They collect the blood as it enters the heart.
  • The left and right ventricles are in the bottom part of the heart. They pump blood out of the heart.

Together, the arteries and veins are referred to as the vascular system. Arteries carry blood away from the heart and veins carry blood back to the heart.

The cardiovascular system delivers oxygen, nutrients hormones, and other important substances to cells and organs in the body. It plays an important role in helping the body meet the demands of activity, exercise, and stress, and also helps maintain body temperature, among other things.


Cardiovascular medicine refers to the branch of health care that specializes in the treatment of diseases or conditions dealing with the heart and vascular systems.

Disorders may include:

  • Coronary artery disease, including angina and heart attack
  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm
  • Heart failure
  • High blood pressure and high cholesterol
  • Irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias)
  • Congenital heart defects
  • Heart valve problems
  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD)
  • Stroke

Physicians involved in the treatment of circulator or vascular diseases include:

  • Cardiologists, doctors who have received extra training in the treatment of heart disorders
  • Vascular surgeons, doctors who have received extra training in the surgical treatment of blood vessel disorders
  • Cardiac and thoracic surgeons, doctors who have received extra training in the heart-related surgery and pacemaker implantation
  • Primary care doctors

Other healthcare providers involved in the treatment of circulatory or vascular diseases include:

  • Nurse practitioners (NPs) or physician assistants (PAs) who focus on heart and vascular diseases
  • Nutritionists or dietitians

Imaging tests that may be done to diagnose, monitor, or treat diseases of the circulatory and vascular system include:

  • Cardiac CT for calcium scoring
  • Cardiac MRI
  • Coronary angiography
  • CT angiography (CTA) and magnetic resonance angiography (MRA)
  • Echocardiogram
  • PET scan of the heart
  • Stress tests (many different types exist)
  • Vascular ultrasound, such as carotid ultrasound
  • Venous ultrasound of the arms and legs


Minimally invasive endovascular or percutaneous procedures may be done to diagnose, monitor, or treat diseases of the heart and vascular system.

In most of these types of procedures, a catheter is inserted through the skin into a large blood vessel and used to access the area of concern. Such procedures usually do not require general anesthesia. Patients often do not need to stay in the hospital overnight, recover in one to three days and can usually return to normal activities within a week.

Such procedures include:

  • Ablation therapy to treat cardiac arrhythmias
  • Angioplasty with or without stent placement
  • Cardiac catheterization

Heart surgery may be needed to treat certain heart or blood vessel problems. This may include:

  • Open and minimally invasive coronary artery bypass surgery
  • Repair or replacement of heart valves
  • Heart transplant
  • Insertion of pacemakers and defibrillators
  • Surgical treatment of congenital heart defects

Vascular surgery refers to procedures that are used to treat or diagnose a blockage in a blood vessel. Such procedures include:

  • Endarterectomies
  • Arterial bypass grafts
  • Repair of aneurysms of the aorta and its branches

Besides the aorta, procedures may treat arteries that supply the brain, kidneys, intestines, arms and legs.


Cardiac rehabilitation is therapy that is directed at preventing heart disease from getting worse. It is usually recommended after major heart-related events such as heart attack or cardiac surgery. It may include:

  • Health screenings and wellness exams
  • Cardiovascular risk assessments
  • Nutrition and lifestyle counseling, including smoking cessation and diabetes education
  • Supervised exercise

Alternative Names

Circulatory system; Vascular system; Cardiovascular system


Mahapatra S, Ailawadi G. The Cardiovascular System. In: Bope ET, Rake RE, Kellerman R, eds. Conn’s Current Therapy 2010. 1st ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:section 5.

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute web site. “What is the heart?” Accessed Dec. 15, 2011.

Update Date: 3/21/2012

Reviewed by: Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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