Heart attacks often have classic symptoms: chest pain, shortness of breath and chest pressure. However, this is not always the case. In silent heart attacks, which are more commonly referred to as a silent myocardial infarction, the symptoms are so mild that people often do not notice that they have occurred.
But that doesn’t mean you should ignore a mute heart attack — medical experts say it’s as dangerous as a normal one. Here you will learn how a silent heart attack manifests itself and what you have to do about it.
What is a silent heart attack?
In a 2015 study published in the journal “Circulation”
Nicole Weinberg, a cardiologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, says there may be situations where people don’t feel any symptoms at all in a silent heart attack. However, there are often slight signs that are difficult to detect but indicate a silent heart attack.
These include fatigue, heartburn, chest, back or jaw discomfort, and shortness of breath, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). A normal heart attack may have similar symptoms, but is more often associated with a clear feeling of pressure or pain in the chest, arms and neck.
In addition, the symptoms of a silent heart attack can easily be confused with indigestion or even toothache. And while the symptoms usually don’t feel particularly severe, a silent heart attack is just as dangerous as any other heart attack, Weinberg says. Because every type of heart attack occurs when not enough blood flows to the heart. The probability of another infarction is then increased. So is the risk of other heart disease.
Men are more likely to have a silent heart attack
On the one hand, the study found that silent heart attacks are more common in men than in women. On the other hand, however, it was also found that women are more likely to die as a result of a silent heart attack. According to the American Heart Association, this may be because women — and their doctors — do not take the symptoms seriously enough.
Researchers have also found that silent heart attacks are more common in older adults with diabetes. For example, in a 2012 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 14 percent of the 337 participants with diabetes had a silent heart attack.
In the case of a conventional heart attack, doctors can recommend various treatment options. That’s why silent heart attacks are so worrying: if you don’t know you’ve had a heart attack, most of these treatments aren’t implemented or offered. In addition, you may only find out that you have had a silent infarction after the symptoms of heart disease appear, as a silent heart attack damages the heart muscles.
If you think you have the symptoms of a heart attack, you should go to a doctor immediately. While this may seem like an overreaction in some cases, it is always better to be a little more careful than to take the risk of not recognizing a heart attack.
The risk factors for a conventional and a silent heart attack are the same: familial pre-existing conditions, older age, smoking or insufficient exercise, obesity and conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.