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How can a heart attack be silent? Is a silent heart attack any less serious than a regular one? This lesson answers these questions and defines and delineates a regular heart attack from a silent one.

Different Heart Attacks

Just about any TV show or movie portrays a heart attack as this super-obvious event.

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You know, there’s a man going on about his day and all of a sudden he stops, clutches his chest, groans, and maybe kneels over. The reality is that many people do not have the stereotypical heart attack that involves its usual signs and symptoms. Some people have what’s known as a silent heart attack.

Let’s differentiate the two in this lesson.

The Typical Heart Attack

A heart attack is an event that involves the death of a certain section of heart muscle as a result of oxygen deprivation to that part of the heart muscle. The heart muscle is deprived of oxygen because a blood vessel supplying it with blood, the stuff that carries the oxygen, is blocked. General signs and symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Pain, pressure, tightness, squeezing, or discomfort in the chest
  • Pain that may also involve the back, neck, and jaw
  • Pain involving one or both arms
  • Nausea and even vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • A cold sweat
  • A feeling of being very tired and lightheaded

The Silent Heart Attack

There is also a kind of heart attack called the silent heart attack, a kind of heart attack where the person experiences few, if any, of the signs and symptoms we just went over. Namely, the person may not have any chest pain at all. In fact, many people later on realize what they thought was indigestion, a bad flu, or even nausea was in fact a heart attack.

So how in the world do we diagnose this kind of heart attack? Well, the only way to really do this is to have specialized tests performed that can tell a doctor that your heart has had a heart attack. One of these tests is called an echocardiogram, a test that uses sound waves to image the heart. Another is called an electrocardiogram, a test that helps detect any abnormalities in the heart’s rate and rhythm.For example, a person who experiences a silent heart attack may notice that they are far more fatigued than usual or constantly short of breath after what they thought was just a bad case of the flu. In fact, these two issues may arise as a result of structural changes that occur to the heart as a result of the heart attack.

When the person goes to the doctor complaining of these problems, the doctors may conduct the tests I described above only to find that the patient now has an irregular heart rhythm or has a valve defect that causes the blood in the heart to flow the wrong way.I must emphasize that a silent heart attack is not any better than a more stereotypical one just because a person has no chest pain and few, if any, of the other signs and symptoms of the heart attack we went over. A silent heart attack is just as bad for the heart and occurs for the same underlying reason we went over.This means that if all you have is only shortness of breath, or pain in the back or arms but not the chest, or prolonged fatigue, or what you think is some bad indigestion or flu, go see a doctor right away. It may be actually be silent heart attack.

Lesson Summary

A heart attack is an event where the blood flow to a part of the heart muscle is blocked, resulting in oxygen deprivation to that part, and the death of that area of the heart as a result. Stereotypically, a heart attack causes:

  • Pain in the chest and, perhaps, the arm(s), jaw, neck, and back
  • A cold sweat
  • Difficulty breathing

And many other signs and symptoms.

These signs and symptoms may be unrecognized, minimal, or completely absent in a silent heart attack. This means a person with a silent heart attack may think his or her nausea is stemming from food poisoning as opposed to a heart attack or they may have no signs or symptoms whatsoever (at least initially). Then, as the heart develops problems as a result of the silent heart attack, such as arrhythmias (irregular rhythms), the person may develop fatigue and shortness of breath. The person will go to the doctor, where the doctor will use one of many tests to diagnose the heart attack. One of these tests is called an echocardiogram, which uses sound waves to image the heart, and the other is called an electrocardiogram, which helps detect any abnormal rate or rhythm to the heart.Medical Disclaimer: The information on this site is for your information only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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