Cardiologists diagnose and treat heart conditions or diseases. But prevention is also key for these providers, especially for patients with a family history of heart attacks, cholesterol, or lipid disorders. Sometimes patients need medication. But often, simple lifestyle changes can make your heart healthier.
Meet Sports Cardiologist Michael Ayers, MD
Sports cardiologists typically work with athletes to help them stay heart healthy. Sports cardiologist Michael Ayers, MD, cares for patients with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). This condition is more common in athletes.
He also treats other cardiac symptoms and conditions in a wide range of athletes, from runners to cyclists or professional athletes.
1. Why did you become a doctor?
I've always been interested in science and logic. It was extremely important to me that I felt like my job gave back to society. My mother was a nurse, so I was exposed to the medical field from an early stage.
I actually worked as an actor in New York City for about three years after finishing my undergraduate education. Sometimes as an artist, it was hard for me to articulate exactly how I was making a difference. For that reason, I decided to go back to school. I was accepted to Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.
2. Why did you choose sports cardiology?
In medical school, I was always drawn to systems with well-described physiology — systems where we understand exactly how they work. There are still a lot of questions in cardiology. But I love that we have such a detailed understanding of how the heart interacts with the rest of the body.
As a sports cardiologist, we have a wealth of treatments that make people live longer, happier, healthier lives. A better question would be, why would anyone chose anything else?
3. What's one thing about cardiology that might surprise people?
Sometimes people worry that cardiologists will only focus on starting new medications and performing invasive procedures. Cardiologists try to emphasize lifestyle changes before medications. Exercise and dietary changes are incredibly powerful tools for decreasing cardiac risk. For invasive testing, there are diagnoses that can be made with imaging alone—most patients don't even need procedures.
4. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in rural western North Carolina in a town called Cullowhee. My father was a professor at Western Carolina University, and my mother was a nurse at the regional hospital.
5. What's the most exciting research happening in your field right now?
I am biased. The most exciting breakthroughs are with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, an inherited disease causing thick heart muscle, and cholesterol management. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy has a new medication, Mavacamten, in development that targets the process driving the thickening of the muscle.
In preventative cardiology, medications called PCSK-9 inhibitors are lowering cholesterol, with incredible reductions in heart attack risk.
We're also starting to better understand how inflammation causes heart disease. We target the inflammatory pathway to prevent heart attacks, heart failure, and strokes.
UVA is Virginia's only designated Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Center of Excellence.
6. Who is your inspiration or hero?
My grandfather was a state judge in Texas. He had an incredible work ethic and always emphasized how much we owe society. We're lucky to live in an era where our intellectual efforts are acknowledged. We must use those efforts to help our fellow man.
7. What's your favorite thing about working at UVA?
I have been incredibly impressed with the environment at UVA — everyone is so friendly and approachable. Despite having some world-renowned physicians, everyone has a team-first attitude.