People regularly have heart attacks and do not know it. In fact, almost half of all heart attacks are “silent,” with the people not having classic symptoms or misinterpreting ones they do have, which precludes them from getting care necessary to prevent another, more damaging one, according to research in the latest issue of the American Heart Association’s publication, “Circulation.”
In television shows, someone having a heart attack is generally shown exhibiting the classic symptoms, such as pain in the chest and/or arm, breathing problems and maybe cold sweats. While these are the traditional indicators for men (for women they can differ), experts now say that 45 percent of heart attacks may be silent, without the warning signs or with such minor ones that are ignored. (Those may be unexplained fatigue, pain in the arms or back, and even indigestion.)
Even without the traditional symptoms, blood flowing to the heart is reduced or choked off completely during a silent cardio infarction. Since people do not realize they need medical attention, a silent heart attack increases their likelihood of dying from cardiovascular issues threefold, according to the research.
In the study that spanned decades and was funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the researchers looked through medical records gathered on 9,498 middle-aged people who were free of heart disease when the research began. The adults were already enrolled in an Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study that was delving into the causes and outcomes of hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). The research team looked at differences in coronary problem experiences between races as well as sexes as the participants aged.
Silent heart attacks that go unnoticed initially are often detected as an unwelcome surprise later. That typically happens when the person has an electrocardiogram, better known as an ECG or EKG, to check their coronary electrical activity.
Looking over data from the nine years from the study’s inception, they found that 317 participants had suffered silent heart attacks while another 386 experienced heart attacks with the classic symptoms. The researchers followed the participants’ health for more than 20 more years to capture data on any deaths related to a heart attack or other causes.
They found that silent cardio attacks increased the likelihood of dying by 34 percent from all causes. While men are more likely to experience silent heart attacks (or ignore symptoms?), women are more likely to die as a result.
Whether a heart attack is silent or recognized as it happening, the outcome and heart damage can be the same, according to study author Dr. Elsayed Z. Soliman, who is the director of the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s epidemiological cardiology research center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He added that, since patients are not aware that “they have had a silent heart attack, they may not receive the treatment they need to prevent another one.”
With nearly half of all heart attacks not getting necessary care, Soliman emphasized that doctors need to be on the lookout for any signs. Then, once a silent heart attack is discovered, they should begin treating the person like other traditional heart attack patients to prevent a second occurrence.
Written and Edited by Dyanne Weiss
American Heart Association: Nearly half of all heart attacks may be ‘silent’
TIME: Nearly Half of All Heart Attacks Don’t Have Symptoms, Study Says
CNN: Almost half of all heart attacks are ‘silent’
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention