When someone says heart attack you think of a dramatic pain that could possibly quickly end your life. However, the reality is twenty percent (American Heart Association 2022 data) of heart attacks are silent: there is no dramatic pain. The popularized notion of a load of bricks sitting on your chest does not always occur. Some experts expand that to fifty percent being silent heart attacks.
A Heart Attack occurs when heart muscle blood supply, bringing nutrients and oxygen, is decreased or stopped. You feel pain because of a blockage, partial or complete. Commonly silent heart attacks are written off as indigestion, sprain in the chest muscle, being tired, or just being run down. In retrospect, when you later recognized you’ve had an attack, you recall an experience such as shortness of breath and general discomfort which led to a night of poor sleep.
Often the most subtle body sensations are: not feeling quite yourself, suddenly sweating, becoming dizzy, and angina (pain from a decrease of blood to the heart muscle). For women the sensation of having a tight bra might be the only hint they’re having angina or heart attack. If these symptoms persist, they can lead to a heart attack. Angina may be reversible but the longer the lack of good blood supply, hence lower oxygen to the heart muscle, the more likely irreversible damage will kill heart muscle – that is a myocardial infarction- MI.
If you’re diabetic, recognizing your heart is talking to you may more easily be missed due to pain signals being dampened by neuropathy. Hence a diabetic person is at a greater risk for a silent heart attack.
Those with minimal symptoms, that is no warning sign, are often fooled or are misdiagnosed. The shortness of breath in a slightly obese woman is thought to be a blood clot coming from the leg to the lung or pain in the arm or shoulder is thought to be arthritis but in reality, could be a heart event. One helpful thing is that if your pain does not change with position or taking deep breaths then it is not musculoskeletal, and could be related to your heart. If you’re exerting yourself and your pain gets worse that would mean you’re not getting enough oxygen and the discomfort is related to your heart. If you feel better at rest when the need for oxygen to your heart muscle is less -then your symptoms could be related to the heart.
Past blogs discussed heart disease risk factors. Refresher – women 55 and older, men 45 and older, carrying excess weight, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, lack of exercise, positive heart history, smoker, family history, and of course Diabetes. You do not need to have a specific number to increase risk. Yes, there are young people with heart attacks because they use drugs or have a hereditary or congenital problem.
Not surprising if you have had a silent heart attack you are more likely to have a stroke, sudden death, or obviously another heart attack. Whenever a heart is stressed there is an increased risk for the heart to start beating in an irregular manner (arrhythmia) and cause blood clots to form.
Message – Pay Attention to changes in the patterns in your body. My mantra, you all know, if your body talks to you it’s important to listen. Pay attention to discomforts. their patterns, and predictability like with exertion. Note especially symptoms such as shortness of breath, weakness, fatigue, not quite feeling right, sweating, nausea, vomiting, lightheadedness, dizziness, pain in the back, arms like a sprain or pulled muscle, mild throat pain or chest discomfort,
Please consider the possibility that you are having a cardiac event. Remember they don’t have to be dramatic. Not everyone has the sensation of impending doom when they are having a heart attack. Not everyone clutches their chest like on the big screen!