You Could Have A Heart Attack And Not Even Know About It

By Shreya Gupta +2 more

When we think of heart attacks, an image pops up in our minds. A person experiencing searing pain in the chest and losing consciousness. While this does indeed happen, there is another phenomenon called a silent heart attack. Most people are not aware of this kind of heart attack. The silent heart attack is not accompanied by the usual signs of a heart attack. It is very much possible that the person experiencing the attack wouldn’t even realize that something is amiss. While this can happen to anyone, persons with diabetes are more prone to it.

If a heart attack can be painless, does that mean it is also harmless? Not at all. A silent heart attack will damage your heart health just like a regular heart attack. In the case of uncontrolled diabetes, due to the damage to nerves, your body fails to sense the pain and discomfort due to the heart attack. It might eventually even put your life at risk. In a way, a silent heart attack is more dangerous than the one that triggers pain. If you don’t even know that you’ve had a heart attack, you will not be able to seek medical help and your health could deteriorate without any warning.

It is also worth knowing the  difference between cardiac arrest and heart attack. Mostly, heart attacks occur when one of the arteries (blood vessels) leading to the heart gets blocked, while cardiac arrest is when the heart stops beating and the person stops breathing normally. Cardiac arrest is worse than a heart attack.

So what is to be done? Let’s find out!

What exactly is a silent heart attack?

Any heart attack, silent or otherwise, happens when your heart muscles do not get a steady supply of oxygen-rich blood through the arteries for a long period of time. The muscles need oxygen to stay healthy and carry out their tasks. But when plaque (caused by bad cholesterol) builds up in the arteries, these blood vessels lose their flexibility and the passage becomes narrow. Naturally, not enough blood is able to flow through them to the heart. The oxygen-starved heart muscles start dying and eventually, a heart attack happens which can further damage the heart muscles and other vital organs of the body.

A silent heart attack may not be characterized by sudden intolerable pain but it is a misconception to think that there are absolutely no warning signs. In the days preceding the attack, people do experience certain mild heart attack symptoms which most ignore. Recognising these signs for what they are, the precursor to a heart attack can help you prevent one.

1. Discomfort in your chest

Any unusual feeling in your chest that persists for more than a day should be examined by a doctor. Heartburn can cause intense stabs of pain but this does not last for more than a few minutes. So do not ignore your chest discomfort by chalking it up to indigestion.

Other heart attack symptoms that need to be brought to your doctor’s attention are – mild pain in your chest, a feeling of pressure anywhere in this region or an inexplicable fullness. Do not overlook these signs of a heart attack.

2. Pain in other parts of the body

A silent heart attack (or any other heart attack) may trigger pain anywhere in the body other than in the chest in the days leading up to the attack. It is difficult for people to associate body pain with an upcoming heart attack. If you feel constant pain in your arms, neck, abdomen, back or jaws, let your doctor know. 

3. Breathlessness or disorientation

If you are having difficulty breathing or are feeling dizzy, the cause might be more than your asthma acting up or exhaustion. Impending heart attacks often trigger both these heart attack symptoms. Poor blood supply to the heart means that even minor exertions like walking up a flight of stairs can make you wheeze. Disorientation happens because your heart isn’t able to pump enough blood to the brain. 

4. Nausea

Nausea could be triggered by a variety of causes from indigestion to the flu. But a future heart attack is also sometimes preceded by intense nausea and vomiting. You may also break out into sudden cold sweats accompanied by dizziness. If you haven’t caught the flu or if there are no other signs of indigestion, then contact your doctor immediately.

Conclusion: Learn to care for your heart

No matter what your age is, you need to take better care of your heart. Exercising 5 days a week is a must. If you are a heart patient, discuss with your doctor about the right exercise for your body. A healthy diet can keep risk factors of heart disorders such as hypertension, high levels of LDL and obesity in check. Undergo cholesterol tests, monitor your blood pressure and give up smoking. Be especially careful if your family has a history of heart diseases. Most importantly, familiarize yourself with the tell-tale signs of a heart attack. If you experience any discomfort for an unusually long time, do not hesitate to inform a doctor. This will save your life.

Disclaimer: The information included at this site is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment by a healthcare professional. Because of unique individual needs, the reader should consult their physician to determine the appropriateness of the information for the reader’s situation.

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