Can You Have Had A Heart Attack And Not Know It?
Many of us have contemplated the question “Can we have a heart attack and not know it?” But before getting into that, let us first understand what a heart attack is.
A heart attack, also known as myocardial infarction (MI), is coronary thrombosis, which means that the blood supply to a part of heart muscle is compromised, mostly due to plaque formation in coronary artery. Now to answer the above question: Yes, we can have a heart attack and not know about it. These types of heart attacks are generally referred to as “Silent Heart Attacks”. As the name implies, they are silent in nature and their symptoms are subtle.
Apparently there is no test to determine the probability of a silent heart attack, but risk factors can be identified and treated. Also lifestyle changes with diet and exercise play a significant role in preventing those. Also listen to your body and seek medical attention when in doubt.
Causes of Silent Heart Attack
As mentioned above, the cause of a silent heart attack is the same as a classic heart attack, i.e., a blockage in the blood flow to the heart due to a blood clot. A silent heart attack carries the same risk as a classic heart attack that includes high blood pressure, high cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides, diabetes, smoking, anxiety, depression, family history of heart disease, obesity, lack of exercise and increasing age. A silent heart attack is much more common and occurs in 45-50% cases of heart attack. Research is ongoing, but studies suggest that women have a greater propensity for silent heart attack as compared to classic heart attack for which men are at a greater risk.
Symptoms of Silent Heart Attack
As some of us may know the symptoms of a classic heart attack are chest pain, pain on the left/both sides of the body such as hands, shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, shortness of breath, sweats and dizziness. In silent heart attack, we may or may not have such symptoms. The symptoms are so vague and subtle that we do not associate them with heart attack. People might have some of the non-classical symptoms such as fatigue, indigestion, discomfort in the upper back or jaw, nausea or vomiting and lightheadedness. People do not call for medical attention as they are not aware that they are having a heart attack.
How to Know If You Have A Silent Heart Attack?
A silent heart attack is more dangerous and scarier than typical heart attack as a person is not aware whether they have had a heart attack or not, so they are not able to get any medical attention. Silent heart attack may present with one or more non-typical symptoms such as mild chest discomfort/pain, fatigue, shortness of breath, stomach pain, indigestion symptoms, throat pain, jaw pain, nausea. People may discard these symptoms as inconsequential and may attribute them to anything/something other than a heart attack. Diabetics may not feel any symptoms due to diabetic neuropathy, meaning their nerves are damaged due to diabetes so they become less sensitive to pain stimulus. If a person is aware of these less typical symptoms then the person can call emergency help. An emergency help within one hour of the heart attack can prevent permanent damage to heart muscle.
How are Silent Heart Attacks Detected?
Nearly half of the patients are unaware that they have had a heart attack. Some people may have persistent symptoms of shortness of breath or fatigue, so they will get a routine electrocardiogram and will find out that they have had a silent heart attack. In some it is detected coincidentally. By the time they are detected damage has already been done, and have suffered silent ischemia due to lack of blood and oxygen to a part of heart muscle. Silent heart attack can be detected through an electrocardiogram, echocardiogram or through elevated troponin levels.
How To Manage Silent Heart Attacks?
Silent heart attack can be managed by identifying the risk factors such a high blood pressure, high cholesterol level, smoking, family history, diabetes, and lack of exercise. The risk factors can be evaluated and treated to prevent a second heart attack, as after a silent heart attack a person becomes at a greater risk of developing another heart attack.
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