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What is a silent heart attack?

Dr. Susie Whitworth, PhD
Nursing Specialist

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.

A silent heart attack is when a patient visits a doctor for atypical symptoms, and tests indicate a heart attack or heart damage has occurred.

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.

Linda Martinez
Cardiac Rehabilitation Specialist

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.

A silent heart attack is when the patient doesn't feel any of the chest pain or discomfort of a heart attack.

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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.