What is a silent heart attack?

Answer From Rekha Mankad, M.D.

A silent heart attack is a heart attack that has few, if any, symptoms or has symptoms not recognized as a heart attack. A silent heart attack might not cause chest pain or shortness of breath, which are typically linked to a heart attack.

People who have a silent heart attack might not know it. They might think they have heartburn, the flu or a strained chest muscle. But a silent heart attack, like any heart attack, involves blockage of blood flow to the heart and possible damage to the heart muscle.

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

  • Age.
  • Diabetes.
  • Excess weight.
  • Family history of heart disease.
  • High blood pressure.
  • High cholesterol.
  • Lack of exercise.
  • Prior heart attack.
  • Tobacco use.

Having a silent heart attack increases the risk of having another heart attack, which could be deadly. Having another heart attack also increases the risk of complications, such as heart failure.

No tests can show the risk of having a silent heart attack. A healthcare professional can check for risk factors and treat those that are treatable. This may lower the chance of having a silent heart attack. Imaging tests are the only way to know if someone has had a silent heart attack. These tests include an electrocardiogram or echocardiogram.

If you think that you've had a silent heart attack, talk to your healthcare professional. A review of your symptoms and health history and a physical exam can help your care team decide if you need more tests.


Rekha Mankad, M.D.

April 16, 2024