When most people think of a heart attack, they envision the victim doubled over with chest pain. While chest pain and shortness of breath are characteristic symptoms of a heart attack, some people present with a different picture. In fact, it’s possible to experience a heart attack and heart damage with no symptoms at all. Experiencing heart damage without any obvious symptoms is known as a silent heart attack and a silent heart attack is more common than you might imagine. In other cases, the symptoms of a heart attack can be so mild that they go unnoticed or unreported. Despite this, damage to the heart muscle takes place.
How do you know if you’re in danger of experiencing a silent heart attack? Certain groups of people are predisposed to having a heart attack without symptoms. These include women, the elderly, and those with diabetes. Diabetics are the most likely to experience a silent heart attack since their ability to experience pain may be reduced by nerve damage due to diabetic neuropathy.
Although a silent heart attack can occur without any symptoms, subtle symptoms may be present that are missed or attributed to other factors. In some cases, symptoms are noticed after the heart damage has already occurred. These can include excessive tiredness and loss of energy, back pain, lightheadedness, nausea, mild chest discomfort, vague shortness of breath, or excessive sweating. These symptoms may be dismissed as being due to anxiety or fatigue. Only after the patient has an EKG in his or her doctor’s office is the truth discovered. The vague symptoms were actually due to a heart attack.
This illustrates how important it is to be vigilant if you have a family history of heart disease or other risk factors for a heart attack including hypertension, smoking, diabetes, or a previous history of history of heart attack. Vague symptoms such as chest discomfort, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, excessive fatigue, sweating, or sudden onset of back pain or indigestion should never be ignored. If you experience these symptoms, go to the emergency room immediately.
If you believe you’ve had a silent heart attack in the past, can your doctor tell? Evidence of heart damage may show up on a routine EKG performed in your doctor’s office. If there’s doubt, your doctor may send you for an exercise stress test or a thallium scan of the heart to look for evidence of heart disease.
Keep in mind that just because a heart attack is silent doesn’t mean it doesn’t cause significant heart damage. The more quickly you can recognize the symptoms of a silent heart attack and get medical care, the better the prognosis will be. Don’t take any chances with your health or your life.