You may have had a heart attack and not know. The reason is because the typical symptoms of a heart attack are often so ordinary and insignificant, they are often missed. The classic symptoms include feelings of pressure, pain, fullness, and squeezing in the chest. There may also be pain in the arms, shoulders, neck, back, teeth, or jaw, stomach pain, shortness of breath, light headedness, sweating, nausea, and anxiety.
Danger of silent heart attacks
Because of the lack of symptoms, silent heart attacks are rarely caught at the time of the event. It is normally at a later electrocardiogram (ECG) that the tell-tale signs are noted by a doctor.
Although these heart attacks do not exhibit symptoms, that does not mean they do no damage. The outcome of a silent heart attack is as bad as a heart attack that is recognized while it is happening. And because patients don’t know they have had a silent heart attack, they may not receive the treatment they need to prevent another one.
A heart attack does not always have obvious symptoms, such as pain in chest, shortness of breath and cold sweats. In fact, a heart attack can actually happen without a person knowing it. It is called a silent heart attack, or medically referred to as silent ischemia (lack of oxygen) to the heart muscle.
A silent heart attack is a heart attack that has either no symptoms or minimal symptoms or unrecognized symptoms. But it is like any other heart attack where blood flow to a section of the heart is temporarily blocked and can cause scarring and damage to the heart muscle.
People who have silent heart attacks are more likely to have non-specific and subtle symptoms, such as indigestion or a case of the flu, or they may think that they strained a muscle in their chest or their upper back. It also may not be discomfort in the chest, it may be in the jaw or the upper back or arms.
A silent heart attack happens when the flow of blood is blocked in the coronary arteries by a build up of plaque. Studies suggest that silent heart attacks are more common in women than in men. The risk factors for a silent heart attack are the same as those for a recognized heart attack, and include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, family history of heart disease, obesity and age.
A silent heart attack can be just as dangerous as its more obvious counterpart. The event often leaves scarring and damage to the heart; it puts the person at greater risk of other heart problems. And because the person didn’t know to seek treatment, blood flow to the heart might not have been restored early on, and no medications were administered, so the impact could potentially be greater.
What to do
The “silent” in a silent heart attack is the complicating factor. You may not realize you’re experiencing a medical emergency. If you do notice symptoms of a silent heart attack, try to stay calm and call a doctor immediately.
How to prevent a silent heart attack
Know your risk factors. Be aware of your blood pressure and cholesterol, exercise regularly and avoid smoking to decrease their risk of a heart attack. Above all, listen to your body, and if something isn’t right, talk to a doctor.