The heart of the matter – Silent Heart Attack

By June Shannon Heart News   |   29th Jun 2018

At the Irish Heart Foundation, we aim to provide accurate and evidence-based information on heart disease and stroke to help you make informed decisions about your health. One of the questions we get asked a lot is what is a silent heart attack?

Not all heart attacks present in the same way or with the same symptoms. Normally when we think of a heart attack we immediately think of chest pain, jaw pain and pain radiating down the left arm. We may also associate a heart attack with shortness of breath, feeling sweaty, clammy and generally feeling unwell. However sometimes people can have a heart attack without actually knowing they are having one and this is referred to as a silent heart attack.

According to Brigid Sinnott, BLS co ordinator with the Irish Heart Foundation, a silent heart attack gets its name from the fact that the symptoms are often very subtle or non-descript.

“The person may complain of what they think is a bit of indigestion, some present with flu like symptoms. Others even think that they have pulled a muscle,” she explained.

Brigid said that the risk factors for a silent heart attack were the very same as those for heart disease and included high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, a family history of heart disease, obesity and age.

“In heart attack many people experience pain but in the silent heart attack they do not experience this warning sign of pain,” Brigid explained.

In the silent heart attack they do not experience this warning sign of pain

Brigid Sinnott, BLS co ordinator

“The warning sign of pain makes most people act and call an ambulance. However, because those having a silent heart attack do not have the classic signs and symptoms of a heart attack they may deny that they are having an event. They may present to the hospital a number of days later and when tests are then performed a silent heart attack is diagnosed,” she added.

Brigid advised that if you are anyway suspicious that you are having a heart attack and you do not have the classic symptoms, it is still better to get checked out.

In order to minimise your risk of having a silent heart attack Brigid said the same heart healthy advice applied.

“Know your numbers, have your blood pressure and cholesterol checked regularly. Exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight and don’t smoke.”

Finally, Brigid said that if you think you are having a heart attack sit down immediately and call the emergency services on 999 or 112.

“If you know your eircode it is really helpful for the emergency services locating you. Try to stay calm and listen to the instructions from the emergency call taker.”

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