Silent Heart Attack: Signs, Symptoms, and Prevention

By , Category : Heart Health

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Silent Heart AttackDid you know you could suffer a heart attack without realizing it? A silent heart attack shows none of the usual symptoms we look for in a cardiac distress situation.

This can be scary as it is important to seek medical attention at first signs to prevent permanent damage to the heart. It can happen to you!

You may be experiencing symptoms and attribute them to the flu, indigestion, or even exhaustion from being overworked. Read on to learn the silent heart attack symptoms in women and men and ways to prevent this silent killer.

What Is a Silent Heart Attack?

A silent heart attack refers to a myocardial infarction that is asymptomatic. Part of the heart sustains damage or death with no symptoms of a typical heart attack. Many medical professionals denote this condition upon a routine check-up with patients.

A heart attack can be caused by various factors with the common outcome of insufficient blood flow to a portion of the heart. Silent heart attacks appear to affect more women and minorities than other groups. Other members of the population at a higher risk include those with diabetes, high risk of strokes, men and women older than 65 years of age, and patients on regular doses of medication.

Silent heart attacks are more common than previously thought. A 2012 study  examined 936 Iceland natives between the ages of 67 to 93, 266 with diabetes and 670 without. Researchers found that a higher percentage of participants suffered silent heart attacks (21% of the diabetics and 14% of others) than a typical heart attack with recognizable signs (11% of diabetics and nine percent of non-diabetics).

Circulation, the official journal of the American Heart Association, recently published a study suggesting that nearly half of all heart attacks are silent—a whopping 45%. It is vital to know the casual symptoms that can lead to a silent heart attack.

Signs and Symptoms of Silent Heart Attack

Since many people are unaware that they’ve had a heart attack until weeks or months after the episode, it is important to listen to your body. While a silent heart attack does not have the visible signs of a regular myocardial infarction, there are signs that will alert you. Pay attention to the following messages.

Pain

Yes, pain is associated with a silent heart attack, but unlike the pronounced chest pain of a regular heart attack, it can occur in various regions. Pain can be localized to the middle region of the upper abdomen, jaw, and back areas such as when you have strained a muscle. Diabetics may miss the pain associated with silent heart attacks as their pain receptors are often disabled.

Shortness of Breath

If you are having trouble breathing or shortness of breath with even the smallest activity, you may be having a heart attack. Our heart needs a continuous amount of blood pumping to function properly. Any injury or damage to the heart can hinder this process and force our lungs to work harder, causing a change in our breathing.

Feeling of Heartburn

Stomach acid causes a burning feeling in the chest area when it enters the esophagus. This same sensation can be the signal of a heart attack. The heart and esophagus share the same nerve endings and the discomfort can be mistaken for heartburn. Mix in a feeling of nausea, and many attribute it to indigestion. If your heartburn does not subside or resolve with treatment, you may want to seek medical advice.

Fatigue

Depending on our lifestyle and recent activities, we can mistakenly ignore the overall feeling of tiredness as a symptom of a heart attack. You may even think it is the onset of flu or another mild condition. Fatigue can set in after a long week, but it can also be your heart telling you it is having trouble. Monitor yourself when experiencing fatigue. If it is continuous or gets worse, you could be having a heart attack.

Lightheadedness

When our heart is having difficulty pumping blood, our brain may lack oxygen, giving us a feeling of lightheadedness or dizziness. This alone is a sign you could be in trouble. It is important to recall your immediate activities as a lack of nutrients due to skipping meals can also give this dizziness sensation. If you are experiencing excessive sweating with constant dizziness or fainting spells, it could be a heart attack.

Although these signs and symptoms can indicate a silent heart attack, the diagnosis should be confirmed with an electrocardiogram, review of your medical history, and an enzyme blood test.

What Causes a Silent Heart Attack?

Both silent heart attacks and typical heart attacks occur when there is a blockage in the coronary arteries, causing a lack of oxygen supply to the heart. Plaque buildup in the arterial walls due to excess cholesterol may be to blame.

Other conditions that can cause a lack of oxygen supply include:

  • Spontaneous coronary artery dissection, known as SCAD, occurs when a tear suddenly appears in a blood vessel wall.
  • Coronary vasospasm can affect blood flow when an abrupt spasm hits a coronary artery.
  • Microvascular disease affects the function and physical properties of the blood vessels to the heart.

From this, we can determine a silent heart attack can happen at any time. Some documented cases have occurred during typical physical activities, exposure to cold temperatures, and even when at rest or sleeping. It can also happen during times of emotional and physical stress such as with a health issue.

You should head to the nearest emergency room the minute you suspect you’re having a heart attack. Upon your arrival, you will receive the appropriate silent heart attack treatment.

Silent Heart Attack Prevention

While many heart attacks can happen without warning, we will learn how to prevent silent heart attack through lifestyle changes.

Follow a Healthy Diet

To maintain good overall health, you must follow a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, grains, and omega-3 fatty acid enriched foods. Cut back on sweets, salt intake, red meat products, and saturated fats. Avoid consuming trans fats.

Exercise Regularly

You can reduce your risk of heart disease, which leads to heart attacks, with a routine of regular exercise. It doesn’t have to be a daily strenuous workout, just continuous movement for at least 60 minutes a day. Explore your world with a walk or join an exercise class that interests you.

Avoid Tobacco Use

If you smoke, take measurements to quit today. Your heart and life depend on it. You can reduce your risk of a heart attack significantly within the first year of quitting. Smokers who have less than five cigarettes a day are at risk for heart issues.

Relax

Take time to unwind from your everyday stress. Try sessions of yoga and meditation or spend time alone enjoying a favorite hobby such as reading.

Regulate Blood Pressure

High blood pressure can lead to heart attacks. Monitor your pressure and maintain a regular exercise routine, eat right, and manage any stress.

Monitor Blood Sugar

High blood sugar levels will put you at risk for heart damage without a diabetes diagnosis. Maintaining a steady level can reduce your risk of a heart attack.

Keep Cholesterol in Check

Monitor your cholesterol levels with your doctor to ensure a low level of LDL cholesterol  and a healthy level of HDL cholesterol. Plaque buildup in your arteries is created by cholesterol, calcium and fat deposits.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Depending on your physique factors, follow a healthy diet and regular exercise routine to maintain a weight that’s right for you. Your heart has to work harder when you have excess weight.

The possibility of having a heart attack is a concern for many of us. Now that you know a silent heart attack can happen without any warning signs or symptoms, you may be even more concerned. Remember to monitor the aforementioned signs you may have previously dismissed. And while it may be easier said than done, try to avoid stress as it can lead to an episode as well. Make lifestyle changes today that can help you prevent this silent killer.


Sources:

“Heart Attack,” Mayo Clinic; http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-attack/expert-answers/silent-heart-attack/faq-20057777, last accessed March 2, 2017.

Dr. Chris, “Heart Attack,” Health Hype; http://www.healthhype.com/silent-heart-attack.html, last accessed March 2, 2017.

“Silent Heart Attack: Symptoms, Causes and Prevention,” Massachusetts General Hospital, July 6, 2016; http://www.massgeneral.org/heartcenter/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=5903, last accessed March 2, 2017.

Dr. Mary, “Silent Heart Attack,” Bye Bye Doctor; http://byebyedoctor.com/silent-heart-attack/, last accessed March 2, 2017.

Krans, B., “The Heart Attack You Never Knew You Had,” Healthline, May 26, 2016; http://www.healthline.com/health-news/heart-attack-you-never-knew-you-had#1, last accessed March 2, 2017.

“What You Can Do To Prevent A Heart Attack,” Web MD; http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/prevention-15/heart-healthy/understanding-heart-attack-prevention, last accessed March 2, 2017.




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