Office Visit: When Heart Attacks Go Silent

Office Visit: When Heart Attacks Go Silent

Lee esto en EspañolBy Joseph R. Cunningham, M.D.

When you think of a heart attack, conventional symptoms may come to mind: intense chest pain, shortness of breath, and a numb sensation in your limbs. But did you know you can have a heart attack and not even know it? Knowing the risk factors and the symptoms—even those that are minor—may save your life.

A “silent heart attack,” also known as a silent myocardial infarction (SMI), may have little to no detectable symptoms compared to what you would expect from a traditional heart attack. According to Harvard Health,   SMIs account for nearly half of heart attacks and are more common in men.

Symptoms of a silent heart attack may include fatigue and mild pain in the throat or center of the chest. These symptoms may be mild, pass quickly, and can often be mistaken for indigestion or general aches and pains. Even though the pain may be mild, an SMI shouldn’t be ignored: it can do serious damage to your heart known as myocardial scarring, which weakens your heart. If you experience a silent heart attack, there’s a greater chance you will have another heart attack, which could be fatal. 

Risk factors for a silent heart attack are the same as any other heart attack, including tobacco use, lack of exercise, and excess weight, per the Mayo Clinic.   Health conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes also increase your risk.

A study by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 80 percent of people who had myocardial scarring didn’t even know it; that’s why it’s critical to talk to your doctor about your heart health. Your doctor may order a diagnostic test, like an electrocardiogram or echocardiogram, to check for signs that you’ve experienced a silent heart attack.

Take steps to lower your chances of a heart attack by tackling your list of risk factors: don’t use tobacco, cut back on alcohol, exercise regularly, and abide by a heart-healthy diet. Managing stress and getting enough sleep is critical to maintaining your overall health and reducing potential heart attack triggers.

Your heart health should never be ignored. Listen to your body and don’t hesitate to call 9-1-1 if you think you’re having a heart attack.

Dr. Joseph R. CunninghamJoseph R. Cunningham, M.D. is the president of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma, a Division of Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company.

(For more Office Visit columns by Dr. Cunningham, visit The Journal Record.) 

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