Heart Disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 610,000 people die of heart disease every year. It is the leading cause of death in both men and women, but more than half of all deaths occur in men. Most people can identify chest pain as a classic symptom of a heart attack. But, only 27% of Americans are aware of all the potential signs and symptoms of a heart attack. That means most people are missing non-classic symptoms of a heart attack. A silent heart attack occurs when a person does not identify non-classic symptoms as a heart attack, the signs and symptoms go unnoticed.
A new study in the journal of Circulation looked at the following in relation to silent heart attacks:
- How common are silent heart attacks?
- How serious are silent heart attacks when compared to a classic heart attack- i.e. chest pain?
- Are there differences based on race and gender?
What the study found:
- 45% of all heart attacks are silent.
- Silent heart attacks are often unrecognized and untreated.
- The risk of death is tripled in patients with silent heart attacks.
- Women are more likely to die of silent heart attacks when compared to men.
- Black Women had the highest risk.
The leading author of the study, Dr. Elsayed Z. Soliman states “The outcome of a silent heart attack is as bad as a heart attack that is recognized while it is happening and because patients don’t know they have had a silent heart attack, they may not receive the treatment they need to prevent another one.”
What are some non-classic symptoms of a heart attack?
Crushing chest pain is easily recognized as a symptom of a heart attack, but there are some signs and symptoms that are not identified as related to a possible silent heart attack. Here are some signs and symptoms:
- Unexplained fatigue.
- Shortness of breath, especially with normal activity.
- Light headedness.
- Unexplained leg swelling.
- Pain in the jaw, back or arms.
- Indigestion. Some people will experience burning in the chest and/or nausea.
Because women are juggling family and work, they get so busy that they have a tendency of explaining away their symptoms as a function of their normal life stress. If you experience symptoms that are far from the norm and appear suddenly, you should seek medical attention from your primary care physician.
How can you know if you’ve had a silent heart attack?
An electrocardiogram (EKG) can detect a silent heart attack. An EKG measures the heart’s electrical activity. It can be easily done in your primary care physician’s office. If the EKG is abnormal is, your doctor will order the appropriate medical test(s) to confirm the findings of the EKG.
What can you do to decrease your risk of heart disease?
- Eat a heart healthy diet.
- Know your numbers, i.e. your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- Know the risk factors. Obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, tobacco abuse and family history are all risk factors for heart disease.