Contributed by: Healthians Team
What are silent heart attacks?
A silent heart attack, also known as silent myocardial infarction (SMI) occurs either with no symptoms, minimal symptoms, or symptoms that people neglect believing that it has nothing to do with a heart attack.
The onset of a silent heart attack often goes unrecognized because it does not manifest symptoms like that of a classic heart attack, such as shooting pain in the arm, neck, or jaw, severe chest pain & pressure, shortness of breath, sweating, and dizziness.
Although women are more prone to developing heart failure (approximately 20% more than men), however, 45% of silent heart attacks strike more men than women. Some research studies also prove that nearly 50% to 80% of all heart attacks are silent, and can occur while sleeping or awake.
A heart attack occurs when the oxygen supply to the heart is obstructed, which hinders the normal functioning of the heart. This situation usually arises owing to a blood clot in one of the coronary arteries which restrict the normal flowing of blood, also known as coronary artery disease (CAD).
A silent heart attack can also occur when:
- Experiencing an emotionally or physically stressful scenario
- Sudden extreme physical activity
- Being excessively physically active outside in the cold
This article will take you through the silent heart attack reasons, silent heart attack signs, its diagnosis, and how to prevent silent heart attacks.
Reasons behind silent heart attacks
The heart is one of the most important organs of the body that pumps around 1.5 gallons of blood every minute to keep you moving. There are certain lifestyle habits and medical conditions that can lead to both silent heart attacks and traditional heart attacks due to less or no oxygen supply to the heart.
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is one of the most common causes of a heart attack which occurs due to plaque buildup in one of the arteries that supply blood to the heart.
Some other reasons that can lead to a silent heart attack include:
- Being overweight (obesity)
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Age factor (especially men over the age of 45)
- Women older than 55 (or after menopause)
- High cholesterol levels
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- A family history of heart attacks
- Living in stress
- Tobacco consumption
- A diet rich in cholesterol, salt, and unhealthy fats
- Excessive alcohol consumption
What are the silent heart attack symptoms?
There’s a reason why a silent heart attack is called ‘silent’. Generally, there are no symptoms of a silent heart attack or they are so mild that they often go unnoticed. So, if someone is having a silent heart attack, it might not be possible for them to realize it. However, your body is always able to send out warning signs whenever there’s an issue, no matter how small.
While the symptoms of a silent and a regular heart attack might be similar, yet knowing them in relation to an actual heart attack can prove life-saving. Some of the symptoms of a heart attack are:
- A tense muscle in the chest or upper back
- Pain in the jaw, arms, or upper back
- Extreme and unexplained fatigue
- Chest pain that stays longer than a few minutes
- Shortness of breath
- Discomfort in the upper body
- Cold sweats
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fast or uneven heartbeats
- Unusual sound from the lungs
People suffering from ischemic heart disease (a problem caused by narrowed heart arteries) can experience chest pain while moving around which stops after resting for a few minutes. If the pain continues even after resting, it indicates the occurrence of a silent or a conventional heart attack.
Diagnosing a silent heart attack
Since silent heart attacks often go unrecognized and become a matter of concern when the situation worsens, here are some diagnostic approaches that can help in analyzing the exact cause of the symptoms.
- Physical examination: The doctor will use a stethoscope to check if the heartbeats are normal or irregular.
- Blood test: To diagnose heart attack markers like cardiac troponin, creatinine kinase (CK), CK-MB, and myoglobin
- Electrocardiogram (ECG/EKG): It is the simplest and fastest way to evaluate the heart by sticking small plastic patches (electrodes) to the skin of the chest, arms, and legs. The electrodes are connected by lead wires to an ECG machine that shows the heartbeats.
- Coronary angiography: An X-ray to detect blockages in the coronary arteries
- CT scan: An imaging diagnostics method in which a CT-scan (computed tomography) machine is used to create images of the internal structure of the body.
- MRI scan: An imaging technique in which strong magnetic fields and radio waves are used to generate images of the heart.
- Exercise stress test: A test to examine how the heart works while exercising
- Echocardiogram: An ultrasound of the heart that aids in determining the heart’s beating patterns
- Nuclear stress test: This test is done along with an exercise stress test and involves injecting a radioactive tracer in the heart to take two sets of images. The first image is taken when the body is at rest and the second image is taken after exercise.
How to prevent a silent heart attack
Consulting a doctor upon experiencing the symptoms, and following the recommendations is important to improve heart health and reduce the chances of a heart attack.
Other preventive measures include:
- Stop smoking
- Stop consuming tobacco products
- Quit alcohol
- Exercise regularly
- Manage stress
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Eat foods that help promote heart health (beetroot, nuts, garlic, and ginger, etc.)
Some preexisting medical conditions can also increase the risk of a heart attack. Thus, it is important to take preventive measures to protect the heart. These conditions include:
- Chronic kidney disease
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol levels
- Peripheral artery disease
Silent heart attacks are more dangerous than regular heart attacks as they go nearly unnoticed. Unfortunately, if a person has had a heart attack, there is an increase in the odds of getting another one.
To protect your heart’s health and overall well-being, you should undergo an early diagnosis to identify the exact cause of the symptoms and undertake the above-mentioned preventive measures to live a healthier and longer life.