Understanding a Silent Heart Attack

Steven Mott by Steven Mott | Licensed since 2012
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This article was updated on: 09/15/2018

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What is a silent heart attack?

A heart attack occurs when blood flow carrying oxygen to the heart is severely reduced or cut off completely, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Every 40 seconds someone in the U.S. has a heart attack. A “silent” heart attack is a heart attack that may have no symptoms. People who suffer from a silent heart attack may mistake it as indigestion, nausea, or muscle pain, according to the Mayo Clinic. Silent heart attacks account for almost half of heart attacks, according to a study published by the Harvard Medical School.  Typical heart attack symptoms according to the Mayo Clinic include: chest pain, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, nausea and vomiting, lightheadedness, sweating, and stomach or upper body pain. In a silent heart attack, none of these symptoms may be present.

A silent heart attack is serious. Having a silent heart attack puts you at greater risk of having another, possibly fatal heart attack, according to the Mayo Clinic.

What are signs you’ve had a silent attack?

The only way to tell that you’ve had a silent heart attack are with imaging tests, such as electrocardiogram or echocardiogram, according to the Mayo Clinic. An electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) detects and records the heart’s electrical activity through electrodes attached to the chest, arms, and legs, according to the National Institute of Health. An EKG can show how fast your heart is beating, the rhythm of your heart, and strength and timing of the electrical impulses passing through each part of your heart. An echocardiogram (echo) uses high frequency sound waves (ultrasound) to take pictures of your heart, according to the AHA. Neither of these tests should hurt.

What are the risk factors for a silent heart attack?

A heart attack (or silent heart attack) occurs when coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart become narrowed from a buildup of fat, cholesterol, and other substances, according to the AHA. According to the Mayo Clinic, the risk factors for a silent heart attack are same as for a heart attack with symptoms. Silent heart attack risk factors include:

  • Smoking or other tobacco use
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Age
  • High cholesterol and high blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Not exercising and being overweight

Men are more vulnerable to silent heart attacks than women, according to the Harvard Medical School.

Do you want more information on Medicare coverage of silent heart attacks?

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