In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

December 3, 2019

Silent Heart Attacks Are a Real Thing — But They Don’t Have to Be

By In the Loop

Heart attacks aren't one-size-fits-all and can sometimes happen even without knowing it. But rather than worry, it's possible to take steps to safeguard our hearts.


The symptoms of a heart attack are often pretty clear: pressure, tightness, pain, or a squeezing or aching sensation in your chest or arms that may spread to your neck, jaw or back; nausea, indigestion, heartburn or abdominal pain; shortness of breath; cold sweats; fatigue; and lightheadedness or sudden dizziness, to name a few.

Problem is, heart attacks are not one-size-fits-all. "Not all people who have heart attacks have the same symptoms or have the same severity of symptoms," our friends at mayoclinic.org note. "Some people have mild pain; others have more severe pain. Some people have no symptoms."

And some people, according to this Personal Health story from The New York Times, may be walking around without knowing that they've had a heart attack. "When my Aunt Gert suffered a heart attack in her mid-70s, the examining doctor told her that it was not her first," columnist Jane Brody writes. "Tests done to assess the damage to her heart revealed a section of dead muscle from a previous unrecognized heart attack. Sometime in the past, she had had what doctors call a 'silent myocardial infarction,' or S.M.I., silent in that any symptoms she might have had at the time did not register as related to her heart."

So now, on top of everything we already try to stay on top of with our health, we get to add worrying about suffering silent heart attacks to that list?

Rather than worry, though, Brody says it's possible to take steps to safeguard our hearts against these silent attackers. And those steps fall very much in line with recommendations for keeping us safe from regular, not-so-silent heart attacks. "A recognized heart attack is a wake-up call to adopt medical and lifestyle measures that can minimize cardiac risk, like normalizing blood pressure and cholesterol levels, quitting smoking, losing weight if you're overweight, getting regular exercise and controlling Type 2 diabetes," she writes.

And what could the expected outcome of these dietary and lifestyle changes be for our bodies and our hearts? Well, "even without medication," Brody writes that Rekha Mankad, M.D., cardiologist and director of the Women's Heart Center at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, tells her, "If everyone at increased coronary risk adhered to a heart-healthy lifestyle, the incidence of heart disease would be reduced by 80 percent."

We're no mathematicians, but that sounds like a lot of solid protection from silent and non-silent heart attacks alike.

You can read the rest of Brody's story on silent heart attacks here. And you can read more about what you can do to protect yourself from heart attacks here. Then break the silence and share your comments below before using the handy social media tools atop this page to share this story with others.


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Tags: Dr. Rekha Mankad, Health and Wellness, Heart attack, Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Women's Heart Clinic

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