Silent Heart Attacks Are Just as Deadly

Silent Heart Attacks Are Just as DeadlySilent Heart Attacks Are Just as Deadly

Not all heart attacks produce chest pain or the other well-known classic symptoms. So-called silent heart attacks, however, can be just as deadly.

New research, published in Circulation, measures the impact of these silent but serious cardiac events. The typical symptoms of a heart attack include feelings of pressure, pain, fullness, and squeezing in the chest.

There may also be pain in the arms, shoulders, neck, back, teeth, or jaw. These can be referred to as the classic symptoms, but heart attacks do not always present in this way.

In reality, almost one half of heart attacks do not display the majority of those symptoms. Yet, blood flow to the muscle of the heart is still reduced or cut off completely; this is referred to as ischemia.

Because of the lack of symptoms, silent heart attacks are rarely caught at the time of the event. It is normally at a later electrocardiogram (ECG) that the tell-tale signs are noted by a doctor.

Although these heart attacks do not exhibit symptoms, that does not mean they do no damage. Researchers from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, Winston-Salem, NC, led by Dr. Elsayed Z. Soliman, investigated the outcome of these events in more detail.

“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.”

The team pooled data from 9,498 middle-aged adults who were involved in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study. The study started recruiting in 1987.

Researchers had access to the data for each individual over an average of 9 years. During that time, 386 individuals had a heart attack that featured typical symptoms, and 317 people had silent heart attacks.

Each participant was then followed for more than 20 years, tracking heart-related disease, deaths from heart attacks, and other relevant health outcomes.

Dr. Soliman and his team found that silent heart attacks made up 45% of total heart attacks. They discovered that silent heart attacks tripled the chances of dying from heart disease later in life. The team also noted that they are more common in men than women, but that they are more commonly fatal in women.

Worryingly, silent heart attacks were found to increase the chances of dying from all causes by 34%.