Can a healthy person have a heart attack? Yes, but the truth is that heart problems don’t appear out of the blue. Although heart attacks can suddenly occur in people who seem to be perfectly healthy (known as a “silent heart attack”), there are often warning signs.
According to figures from the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation, sports-related sudden cardiac arrest accounted for 39% of SCAs among those 18 years of age and older. 13% of SCAs occurred in those 19-25 years of age, and 7% for those 25-34 years of age. These are people who are physically active, exercising regularly, and weren’t aware of any damage to their heart or risk factors.
But is there something they could have done differently? Let’s learn more about sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) and the potential warning signs that can keep an otherwise healthy person from having a heart attack.
Sudden cardiac arrest sometimes strikes seemingly healthy people who have never had a moment's worry about heart disease. Usually, though, some type of cardiac trouble is at its root. Cumulative damage from cholesterol-clogged arteries or high blood pressure is the most common cause.
Researchers at the University of Berlin carried out one of the most comprehensive studies on sudden cardiac arrest. Of the more than 400 cases they studied, someone saw or heard the victim collapse almost 70% of the time. That person tended to be a family member since nearly three-quarters of the SCAs happened at home.
Warning signs were also surprisingly common among people whose cardiac arrests were witnessed. These included:
Some people began to experience these hours before the arrest. In 90% of the cases, symptoms lasted for at least five minutes. Only 25% of the victims had true out-of-the-blue arrests that weren't preceded by symptoms. The results are published in the journal “Circulation.”
To find out if you’re at risk, you can have a stress test done, but there are limitations. A stress test only detects the condition of blood flow in the body on the day the test is conducted. That’s why you’ll hear stories of people who experienced a heart attack shortly after having a physical exam.
What’s important to understand is that a stress test does not reveal the presence of potentially fatal soft plaques that are growing in the coronary arteries. These plaques can rupture anytime and cause a heart attack. The condition of blood flow can change in a short period of time, and therefore, passing a stress test does not mean that a person will not suffer from a heart attack in the days or weeks that follow.
Choosing not to smoke, being physically fit and eating healthy lowers your risk for heart disease, but you can’t ignore your genes, cholesterol and blood pressure. Getting annual physicals and lab tests done is your first line of defense. Also, if you feel any symptoms of disease, address them.
Another thing that is helping is the pre-participation screening of middle and high school athletes. More figures from the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation show more than 5,100 middle and high school students were screened from 2010-2017. The screenings revealed high-risk cardiovascular conditions in 1.47% of them.
In the past, cardiologists did not have access to diagnostic tests that can detect arterial problems accurately. Even though such tests are available today, not many people are getting their arteries examined.
By undergoing the proper noninvasive tests, you can know sooner if your arteries are in a good condition, and you can seek prompt peripheral intervention to treat any arterial condition that exists. This will ensure that you will not get sudden heart attacks, provided that you are not already suffering from some form of heart disease.
North Ohio Heart has the most advanced peripheral vascular ultrasound tests. These noninvasive tests use ultrasound or Doppler to examine your arteries and veins, and they provide very accurate results. They are available in NOH locations including Lorain, Elyria, Medina, Middleburg Heights, Westlake and Sandusky. Talk to your doctor or cardiologist about having one done.
To get started, you can reference our “Know Your Numbers” guide. This guide will introduce you to three tests you need to tell how healthy your heart is. It’s the numbers that will help you keep your heart-health score.