What is a silent heart attack?
While most heart attacks are obvious to the sufferer a silent heart attack might go completely unnoticed. It has as the name suggests few to no symptoms but is just as serious as a heart attack with traditional symptoms. In fact silent heart attacks can be even more dangerous because they can go completely unnoticed and untreated. The heart muscle is still injured just like in a typical heart attack but the person experiencing it may not know to seek treatment. Treatment of all heart attacks is critical and early treatment is ideal because 85 percent of heart damage occurs in the first two hours. According to the American Heart Association untreated scarring caused by a silent heart attack can actually increase a person's risk of experiencing more heart problems.
Silent heart attacks and standard heart attacks are both caused by a buildup of a material called plaque. When too much plaque builds up it can completely clog a person's coronary arteries which stops blood flow to the surrounding muscle causing damage and scarring. The symptoms of a recognized heart attack include pain or burning in the chest pain or heaviness in the arms extreme fatigue and even a general sense of anxiety or dread. However in a silent heart attack these symptoms can be so subtle they go completely unnoticed. According to the Cleveland Clinic some people don't learn they've had a heart attack until a regular doctor visit weeks or months after the event where a routine scan reveals the damage. For others lingering fatigue or persistent shortness of breath leads them to schedule a doctor appointment.
It's important to listen to your body's warning signs and if you think your symptoms might be a heart attack of any kind call your doctor or 911 immediately even if you're not quite sure.
Preventing heart attacks
As the Cleveland Clinic notes women and people with diabetes are more likely to suffer from a silent heart attack but they can affect anyone. Risk factors for silent heart attacks are the same as those for more obvious heart attacks according to the Mayo Clinic and include family history of heart disease smoking or chewing tobacco and high cholesterol. There are many things you can do to promote heart health and help prevent heart attacks such as eating heart-healthy foods reaching a healthy weight and getting more exercise.
It's important to understand the risk factors and symptoms of heart attacks. If you know that you are at a higher risk you can be proactive in preventing a silent heart attack and be on the lookout for subtle symptoms. Talk with your doctor about your risk factors and consider scheduling a heart CT scan to check for dangerous blockages before they cause serious damage.