What is a silent heart attack?

Alvin S. Haynes Jr., MD
Internal Medicine
A silent heart attack happens when there is damage to the heart with no outer symptoms. In this video, Alvin Haynes, MD, of Regional Medical Center of San Jose, explains more about silent heart attacks, and who is at risk. 
Anthony L. Komaroff, MD
Internal Medicine
So-called silent heart attacks are episodes in which part of the heart is damaged when something blocks blood flow through a coronary artery, but the symptoms that accompany the blockage are so subtle that they go unnoticed or are ignored. Silent heart attacks are usually discovered when a person undergoes an electrocardiogram or echocardiogram for a different reason and the test shows abnormalities suggestive of damage to the heart.

Just because a heart attack didn't cause chest pain or other severe symptoms doesn't mean it shouldn't be taken seriously. Individuals who have had silent heart attacks are at high risk of having additional episodes, one of which could be fatal or cause enough damage to lead to heart failure. If you have had a silent heart attack, you should be every bit as attentive to controlling your risk factors for atherosclerosis as someone who has had the traditional "noisy" kind.
Harvard Medical School Heart Disease: A guide to preventing and treating coronary artery disease

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Harvard Medical School Heart Disease: A guide to preventing and treating coronary artery disease

Most people who develop heart disease at least 8 in every 10 have one or more major risk factors that are within their power to change. These include lack of exercise, high blood pressure, and...
Susie Whitworth
Nursing
A silent heart attack occurs in the absence of chest pain. A silent heart attack is caused by the same factors that cause angina. Silent heart attacks affect people who do not have any symptoms of heart attack and have no evidence of coronary heart disease, people who have had a heart attack in the past, and people with angina who also have episodes of silent heart attack. The cause of the silent heart attack is unknown.
Linda Martinez
Cardiac Rehabilitation

Sometimes people will find out they had a "silent" heart attack when they have an electrocardiogram (ECG) done for something other than their heart.  For instance, an ECG is often done before an elective surgery prior to receiving anesthesia.  When questioning a patient about a silent heart attack, often the heart attack wasn't really silent.  Some patients may recall a time when they felt really ill with what they thought was severe heart burn.  Severe heart burn unrelieved by antacids can sometimes be a symptom of heart disease.  Diabetics are a population that often have "silent" heart attacks.  For this reason, diabetics are often treated as if they already have heart disease and will be encouraged to take a baby aspirin a day and treated with cholesterol lowering drugs.

Discovery Health
Administration

A silent heart attack, like its name implies, never gives any warning signs until it is too late.

One study, conducted in Massachusetts, found that roughly 25 percent of heart attacks were discovered only later during routine exams because they gave off no warning signals.

The best way to avoid permanent damage, then, is to get regular heart screening check ups if you suspect you are at risk.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.