We’re all familiar with how heart attacks are portrayed – sharp chest pains, sweating and dizziness followed by a dramatic collapse – but that’s not really how many heart attacks happen. In fact, some can be almost unnoticeable or easily mistaken for less serious health issues. Here’s some insight into silent heart attacks, how they compromise your health, and what to do about them.
What is a Silent Heart Attack?
These heart attacks are known as silent heart attacks because a patient can be completely unaware that they are having a heart attack at all.
The symptoms are often very mild and easily confused with less serious problems like a cold, the effects of overworking, or simple overexertion. Instead of sharp, stabbing chest pains, intense numbness in the arms and difficulty breathing, these heart attacks feel like general discomfort, overall tiredness and fatigue, indigestion, muscle pain, and mild chest or throat pain.
The issue, of course, is that your body is actually going through a very serious medical emergency.
What is Happening in a Silent Heart Attack
A heart attack occurs when a piece of the plaque that builds up inside the arteries breaks off and travels through the bloodstream and gets stuck, blocking off the flow of oxygenated blood to the heart. The blockage may be minor and blood can still flow into the heart, but the heart and cardiovascular system will be under a lot of pressure, and the plaque can scar and damage the arteries.
A Silent Heart Attack Puts You At Risk of Heart Attacks and Sudden Cardiac Arrest
Having a silent heart attack puts you at risk of a more severe heart attack later on, as well as increasing your risk of SCA, an event where the heart’s electrical system malfunctions and the heart stops beating properly. In an SCA, chances for survival are very slim – about 90% of victims pass away, often before emergency services can arrive. This is because it deprives the brain and organs of oxygen, causing severe damage in just a few minutes unless cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is supplied and defibrillation is used to restart the heart.
Risk Factors for a Silent Heart Attack
These are essentially the same risk factors as any other heart attack and include issues such as:
- Heart disease and a family history of heart disease
- Smoking and alcohol use
- Being over the age of 50
- High blood pressure and high cholesterol
People with diabetes already have a higher risk of heart attack, but they are more likely to have a silent heart attack too, which means it is even more important to act quickly when symptoms appear.
What to Do If a Silent Heart Attack Occurs
In general, reduced blood flow will occur for 15-30 minutes in order for a heart attack to be detected, as this is then the heart muscle begins to get damaged. However, symptoms can also come and go over a day or even a week, which doctors call “stuttering symptoms”. Just because your symptoms seem mild does not mean that the heart attack isn’t serious – some major heart attacks present with very few or very mild symptoms.
If you have any of the symptoms we’ve mentioned above (especially if you fall into any of the risk categories), the best course of action is to see your doctor immediately. They will attach an electrocardiogram (ECG) which will monitor the heart’s electrical activity and show any damage to the tissue.
If someone in your home, office or nearby mentions their symptoms or collapses, the best thing to do is to call emergency services immediately, attach an automated external defibrillator (AED) to monitor their heart rhythm, and stay with them until help arrives. Should an SCA occur as a result of the heart attack, your AED will detect it, alert you and proceed with instructions on how to supply CPR and the necessary shock needed to restart their heart.
Be Prepared – Your Actions May Save a Life
At DefibsPlus, we’re passionate about empowering people to help save lives when cardiac emergencies strike. We work to provide public spaces, workplaces and homes with affordable AEDs as well as the training to recognise SCAs and use these simple devices to treat this emergency effectively. In addition, we offer a generous subsidy to help make these critical devices more affordable.
For more information on our products and services or the DefibsPlus subsidy, call 1300 463 344 or use our online form to contact us today. Together, we can save lives.