What Is A Silent Heart Attack?

Just as the name suggests, a silent heart attack is one that may initially go unnoticed as the symptoms are not as intense and apparent as those of a classic heart attack.

Tasha Benjamin, a resident of East Syracuse, New York, recently spoke to CNYCentral about the silent heart attack she suffered in 2014. Though many people believe all heart attacks will be accompanied by chest pain, she explained how that is not always the case.

"You may not necessarily feel an elephant sitting on your chest, which is sometimes related to having a heart attack. It may just be you feel nauseous and dizzy and you may say oh, it's something I ate or I could be tired," Benjamin said.

Symptoms may involve shortness of breath and discomfort in parts of the body besides the chest — these may include the back, the neck, one or both arms, the jaw, or the stomach. People may also experience symptoms related to an upset stomach such as nausea, vomiting, heartburn, etc.

While signs like fatigue and sweating are very common, it might be a warning sign when it is unexplained or excessive. "In my 25 years of practice, people on the verge of a heart attack report feeling tired and not able to do their usual activities," cardiologist Dr. Stacey E. Rosen told Reader's Digest.

In the United States, it is estimated that 45 percent of all heart attacks are "silent", according to research published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation in 2016.

One should take note of factors such as age and sex. Silent symptoms are more likely to affect older adults, especially those over the age of 75. And women are "more likely than men to have heart attack symptoms unrelated to chest pain," states the Mayo Clinic.

Women also have a higher risk of small vessel disease, which is a concern since silent heart attacks happen in small blood vessels. This is among the reasons why women are encouraged to avoid ignoring any unusual changes in their body and overall health, even if they do not seem threatening.

What makes silent heart attacks dangerous and even deadly is that the patient does not receive the required treatment on time if it goes completely unnoticed. Sometimes, patients only find out about their silent attack when they undergo an electrocardiogram, which was the case with Benjamin.

Dr. Elsayed Z. Soliman, director of the epidemiological cardiology research center at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina, said once a silent heart attack has been detected, it should be treated just as aggressively as a traditional heart attack.

"The modifiable risk factors are the same for both kinds of heart attacks," he added. "Doctors need to help patients who have had a silent heart attack quit smoking, reduce their weight, control cholesterol and blood pressure and get more exercise."