Every 43 seconds, someone in the U.S. has a heart attack. And according to a new study, half of them don't even know it. Instead, they suffer what are known as "silent" heart attacks.
"Some people don't realize they are having a heart attack because they don't have pain," says John Ryan, MD, a cardiologist with University of Utah Health. "There isn't that 'elephant on the chest' sensation that is associated with a heart attack, so they write it off as something else."
Silent heart attacks may not cause pain, but they are still as serious. In fact, people who suffer silent heart attacks are more likely to die of heart disease. "There is a significant mortality associated with silent heart attacks," says Ryan. "The long-term consequences increase the longer a person goes without seeking treatment."
So, how do you know if you have suffered a silent heart attack? The best diagnosis is with an EKG or echocardiogram. The electrical impulses of the heart will have changed dramatically. "A patient may come in and after seeing the EKG results realize what they thought was flu or reflux a while ago was actually a heart attack," says Ryan.
Other symptoms of a silent heart attack may include a period of muscle aches or not feeling well, followied by an extended period of fatigue. People at risk for heart disease also are at risk for heart attack and should pay close attention to such symptoms. "If you have diabetes, are obese, or live a sedentary lifestyle, you could suffer a silent heart attack," Ryan adds.
Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the country, and this study points out how many people do not even know they are at risk. "That's the real takeaway here," Ryan says. "If you think you are at risk for a silent heart attack, the time is now to make changes. Make sure your blood pressure is at a healthy level, lower your cholesterol, and make dietary and lifestyle choices that lead to a healthy heart."