What is a silent heart attack?

Having a heart attack is scary, especially if you don’t experience any warning signs. A silent heart attack is a heart attack that occurs with few or no symptoms. There are many different steps you can take to avoid having a silent heart attack. One of the most significant actions is to have an annual wellness visit. During this important visit, your doctor can examine you and determine if you are at risk for heart disease. What’s more, your doctor will ask you about potential risk factors and your family’s medical history.

What is silent heart attack?


Know your risk factors
The risk factors for silent heart attack are the same as those for an attack with physical symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), several health conditions, your lifestyle and age and family history can increase your risk for heart disease. Risk factors include:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Physical inactivity
  • Obesity or being overweight
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Tobacco use

After learning that a silent heart attack occurred, some people may recall having a general feeling of malaise, nausea or indigestion just prior to the heart attack.

Tests for heart disease
Because people who have silent heart attacks often have no symptoms, involving your doctor in your care is even more important. The only way your physician can determine if you’ve had a heart attack is to order specific imaging tests. These tests may include an electrocardiogram (EKG), echocardiogram (heart ultrasound) or stress tests. These tests give your doctor key information that confirms whether you’ve had a heart attack.

What you can do
If you have a family history of heart disease, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will experience a silent heart attack or other heart problems. There are many lifestyle changes you can make to decrease the chances of having a silent heart attack or other conditions related to heart disease.

  • If you smoke, get help and support so you can quit right away. Some hospitals have smoking cessation programs, classes or support groups.
  • If you have high blood pressure, ask your doctor for help in managing hypertension. Regular exercise, medications and a diet low in sodium can help.
  • If you have diabetes, manage your blood sugar and diet with the help of your doctor or a nutritionist who works with people who have diabetes. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that people with diabetes exercise often. Try not to let more than two consecutive days pass without getting physical activity. Get up and move every 30 minutes to help you become more active. You can also find help at Reid Health’s diabetes support group.
  • If you are overweight or obese, consider trying a healthy nutrition plan or enlisting the help of a registered dietitian or nutritionist.
  • If you don’t exercise, it’s time to get moving. It takes time to create new habits, so don’t get discouraged. Start small and walk for ten minutes a day. Gradually increase how long you walk as you feel stronger. You don’t have to join a gym to be active. Going for a walk or doing yard work is a step in the right direction.

Although some risk factors for heart disease such as age and family history can’t be controlled, you can lower your risk by changing the factors you can control. Making healthy lifestyle changes is empowering and may reduce your chance of heart disease, including the chance of having a heart attack. Reid Health offers nutrition education classes to help you and your family create healthy habits.


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