Can you have a heart attack without even realizing it? Not only is it possible, it happens more often than you might think.
A recent study published in the journal Circulation found 45 percent of people who suffer heart attacks are not even aware of it. These “silent” heart attacks do not produce the typical heart attack symptoms – pain in the chest or arm, dizziness, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Instead, they feel more like heartburn or indigestion. People who experience silent heart attacks may simply brush off these symptoms as post-meal discomfort, not realizing their health is at serious risk.
The study found that silent heart attacks are most often seen in men, affecting 5.08 per 1,000 every year. The rate among women is lower at 2.93 per 1,000, but these attacks tend to be deadlier. Among African Americans, the rate of silent heart attacks is higher in women than in men. The study estimates that 155,000 silent heart attacks are diagnosed each year, but other research suggests that the number could be even greater, with 80 percent of all heart attacks going undiagnosed.
Although silent heart attacks may not be identified right away by their symptoms, they can be just as dangerous as a symptomatic heart attack. Both conditions are caused by a buildup of plaque in the arteries which blocks blood flow to the heart. Both silent and symptomatic heart attacks can produce scarring, damage, and place the individual at greater risk of experiencing heart attacks in the future.
A silent heart attack is, by definition, difficult to recognize, but if you do experience troubling symptoms, seek emergency medical treatment immediately. An electrocardiogram (EKG) is a test that monitors electrical activity within the heart and can confirm whether or not you experienced a heart attack (Source: U.S. News and World Report).
Patients can lower their risk of both symptomatic and silent heart attacks by taking proactive steps towards better heart health. These include:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Exercising regularly
- Monitoring your blood pressure and cholesterol
- Not smoking
- Being aware of risk factors, such as age, gender, race, family history, and personal health history