A silent heart attack is a heart attack that occurs without symptoms or with unrecognized symptoms. A person may not know they had a heart attack until they receive a diagnosis after weeks or months have passed.
This article discusses the signs of a silent heart attack. It also outlines risk factors, recovery, and outlook for people who have had a silent heart attack.
A silent heart attack refers to a lack of blood flow to the heart that occurs without pain often associated with blocked arteries. As a result, the heart attack often goes unnoticed, and a person may not have sought help.
According to the
The authors of a
They note that about half of all survivors of a silent heart attack died within 10 years of the incident, which is the same rate as for other survivors of heart attacks.
According to a 2018 study, a person who has had a silent heart attack has an estimated 35% increased risk of heart failure. People in their early 50s or younger have an even greater risk increase.
Other risk factors for a silent heart attack include:
Other individuals may experience nonspecific symptoms that they do not recognize as a sign of a heart attack. These
- excessive, prolonged fatigue
- a feeling of a strained muscle in the back or chest
Other symptoms may include:
The duration of a silent heart attack can vary. If symptoms do present, a person should seek medical attention immediately.
When the symptoms manifest, a person should immediately seek treatment to restore blood flow and prevent critical tissue in the heart from dying or becoming damaged.
An individual who suspects they have symptoms of a heart attack
An individual should contact a doctor as soon as possible if they or someone else experiences:
- unexplained shortness of breath
- excessive fatigue
- a feeling of a strained chest muscle or back
Although these may be signs of a silent heart attack, a doctor can help rule out other conditions that may explain them.
A lack of oxygen-rich blood to all or part of the heart leads to a heart attack. The
In some cases, a portion of plaque can break free, which causes the formation of a blood clot. If the clot grows, it can cause a blockage that prevents blood from reaching the heart.
Although less common, a severe spasm or tightening of a coronary artery can also lead to a heart attack. The spasm stops blood from reaching the heart. Health experts do not know the exact cause, but several factors may play a role, including:
If a person recognizes the symptoms and seeks medical attention right away, an emergency room doctor
- nitroglycerin, which improves blood flow and reduces burden on the heart
- aspirin, which prevents clotting
- oxygen therapy
If symptoms go unnoticed, as is often the case in silent heart attacks, a doctor may take steps to ensure that blood continues to flow to the heart. The primary treatment options include medications that break up clots and percutaneous coronary intervention, which is a surgical procedure to help open up the arteries.
- use of beta-blockers
- therapy to help reduce stress on the heart
- blood thinners
Since a person will likely not notice or associate symptoms with a silent heart attack, they often receive a diagnosis after the heart attack has occurred. A doctor may not diagnose a silent heart attack until they check for other conditions.
Some tests that
- bedside ECG monitoring
- cardiac markers
- exercise stress testing
- radionuclide imaging techniques
- computed tomography
- coronary angiography
The AHA also suggests that females should make sure to advocate for themselves or bring a person along to help advocate for them. It warns that doctors can often dismiss the symptoms as related to anxiety.
A person may not know for several years that they had a silent heart attack. They may only discover it during a routine exam or when other health issues bring them to a doctor.
It is advisable for a person to seek guidance from a doctor about the steps they should take following a silent heart attack.
The outlook for a person who had a silent heart attack is similar to that for people who have noticeable symptoms of a heart attack. They have an increased risk of:
- another heart attack
- heart failure
- sudden death
Improving the outlook
Making small changes to lifestyle may help improve a person’s outlook.
Some actionable steps an individual can take to improve their outlook include:
A silent heart attack occurs with no or unrecognized symptoms. A person may only discover they had a silent heart attack months or years later.
When symptoms do occur, they may include fatigue, a feeling of a muscle spasm in the back or chest, or nausea.
Treatment will depend on when a person discovers they had a heart attack. Doctors will likely recommend preventive medication as well as lifestyle changes following a heart attack. Taking these steps can help a person prevent future heart attacks and other potential complications.