When someone in the movies has a heart attack, it usually involves sudden and terrible pain — something is obviously wrong.
But in spite of the Hollywood portrayal, some heart attacks involve no pain, discomfort, or any signs at all. These events are called silent heart attacks, and experts estimate almost half of all heart attacks happen without symptoms.
Our highly skilled and expert providers here at Heart & Vascular Institute have seen many patients who come in because something seems off without realizing they’ve had a heart attack.
Understanding your risk factors and the subtle symptoms can help you recognize the possibility you’re having a heart attack even if you don’t have the classic symptoms like chest pain.
Silent heart attack: What happens?
Just like a noticeable heart attack, a silent heart attack happens when the blood supply to part of your heart is cut off, usually because the arteries carrying oxygen-rich blood are blocked. When your heart muscle doesn’t get oxygen, the tissue is damaged.
A damaged heart is at far greater risk of a second heart attack, which is often more harmful than the first. Your heart has to work harder to pump your blood.
One of the greatest dangers of a silent heart attack is many people don’t seek treatment because they don’t realize something serious is wrong. That means the chances of dying or developing a disability are higher for people who have a silent heart attack.
You may need to take medications to help your heart function or make changes to your lifestyle.
Risk factors for a silent heart attack
The things that make a silent heart attack more likely are the same things that make any heart attack more likely, including:
- High blood pressure
- Chronic stress
- Lack of exercise
- High cholesterol
- Sex (women are considered more susceptible than men)
Some risk factors can be modified. You can quit smoking or exercise regularly, for example. It’s critical to modify those lifestyle factors under your control.
Subtle signs of a silent heart attack
If you have several heart attack risk factors, understanding the less obvious symptoms may help you know to seek medical care. For example, unusual fatigue could be related to a silent heart attack. Your heart isn’t moving your blood efficiently, and that can make you feel tired.
Sometimes people think they have indigestion when they’re having a silent heart attack. If you don’t usually have indigestion but seem to have a particularly bad case, give us a call.
Although the most recognized symptom of heart attack is chest pain, some people feel pain in the jaw, arms, or upper back instead of the chest. Any combination of these vague or unusual symptoms is a good reason to seek medical care right away.
Don’t wait to seek treatment
Getting treatment as soon as possible is important because it can slow or stop damage to your heart. Even if you find out you’ve had a silent heart attack after the fact, there are treatments that can help mitigate the risk of having another.
At Heart & Vascular Institute, we may recommend diagnostic tests to assess your heart damage, suggest lifestyle changes, or prescribe medications to lower your cholesterol, help your heart work more efficiently, or lower your blood pressure.
If you have risk factors for heart attack, schedule an appointment by phone or online at one of our convenient locations in Dearborn, Detroit, or Southfield, Michigan. Our experts can help you understand your overall cardiovascular health and what you can do to protect it.