What is a silent heart attack?

Answers from Martha Grogan, M.D.

A silent heart attack is a heart attack that has few, if any, symptoms. You may have never had any symptoms to warn you that you've developed a heart problem, such as chest pain or shortness of breath. Some people later recall their silent heart attack was mistaken for indigestion, nausea, muscle pain or a bad case of the flu.

The risk factors for a silent heart attack are the same as those for a heart attack with symptoms. The risk factors include:

  • Smoking or chewing tobacco
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Age
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Lack of exercise
  • Being overweight

Having a silent heart attack puts you at a greater risk of having another heart attack, which could be fatal. Having another heart attack also increases your risk of complications, such as heart failure.

The only way to tell if you've had a silent heart attack is to have imaging tests, such as an electrocardiogram, echocardiogram or others. These tests can reveal changes that signal you've had a heart attack.

If you wonder if you've had a silent heart attack, talk to your doctor. A review of your symptoms, health history and a physical exam can help your doctor decide if more tests are necessary.

May. 09, 2014 See more Expert Answers