Whenever characters in movies or television shows have heart attacks, the event is portrayed as dramatic—and there’s rarely any doubt about what’s happening. Because of this, many people expect heart attacks to come with chest-clutching pain and collapse. However, according to research from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study, 45 percent of heart attacks are considered “silent heart attacks.”
What is a silent heart attack?
A silent heart attack is one that doesn’t follow the more common, popularized symptoms of a heart attack. Often, victims of silent heart attacks don’t even know they’ve had one until imaging tests later confirm the presence of a cardiac event. In fact, many people misdiagnose their silent heart attack as merely indigestion.
Why are silent heart attacks dangerous?
It might seem like silent heart attacks aren’t nearly as worrisome as detectable heart attacks since they can often go entirely unnoticed, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead, having a silent heart attack significantly raises your risk of having future cardiac events—and much more dangerous ones, at that. It’s estimated that people who experience a silent heart attack and do not receive treatment are three times more likely to die from coronary artery disease.
How can you prevent or identify silent heart attacks?
While detecting a silent heart attack in the moment may be difficult, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of suffering any cardiac event. Since silent heart attacks and detectable heart attacks have the same risk factors, you should talk to your doctor about image testing and prevention if any of the following risk factors are true for you:
- A family history of heart disease
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- A sedentary lifestyle
- A BMI that categorizes you as overweight
- A problem with smoking or chewing tobacco
You can be on the lookout for the few symptoms that a silent heart attack does have. Many sufferers report feeling like they had the flu and have identified nausea, indigestion, excessive fatigue, shortness of breath and muscle pain as potential indicators.
If you think you’ve had a silent heart attack, getting confirmation is crucially important to your future health, so don’t hesitate to mention your concerns to your doctor. With a treatment plan of lifestyle changes and medication, you can reduce your risk of having a second heart attack considerably.