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 you don't recognize as a sign of a heart attack. You might not have chest pain or shortness of breath, which are typically associated with a heart attack.
People who have a silent heart attack might later recall that they had indigestion, the flu or a strained chest muscle. But a silent heart attack, like any heart attack, involves blockage of blood flow to your 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:
- 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 puts you at a greater risk of having another heart attack, which could be deadly. Having another heart attack also increases your risk of complications, such as heart failure.
There are no tests to determine your potential for having a silent heart attack. But if you have risk factors, your doctor should evaluate and treat them to reduce your chance of having a silent heart attack. The only way to tell if you've had a silent heart attack is to have imaging tests, such as an electrocardiogram or echocardiogram. These tests can reveal changes that signal a heart attack.
If you think that you've had a silent heart attack, talk to your doctor. A review of your symptoms and health history and a physical exam can help your doctor decide if you need more tests.
April 21, 2020
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See more Expert Answers
- Deedwania PC. Silent myocardial ischemia: Epidemiology, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Feb. 27, 2020.
- What is a silent heart attack? Go Red for Women. https://www.goredforwomen.org/en/about-heart-disease-in-women/facts/silent-heart-attack-symptoms-risks. Accessed Feb. 27, 2020.
- Prasad DS, et al. Prevalence and risk factors for silent myocardial ischemia (PRISM): A clinic observational study in patients with type 2 diabetes. Indian Heart Journal. 2019; doi:10.1016/j.ihj.2019.12.002.
- Bonow RO, et al., eds. Stable ischemic heart disease. In: Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 11th ed. Saunders Elsevier; 2019. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Feb. 27, 2020.