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What Is a Silent Heart Attack?

Most of us imagine a heart attack as a dramatic event that they expect to be able to detect on sight, but this isn’t always the case. It may surprise you to learn you can have a heart attack and not even know it, often called a silent attack, or silent myocardial infarction (SMI). These SMIs often have no symptoms, not even chest pain of shortness of breath. In fact, about 20 to 50% of all heart attacks are mistaken for another, less serious medical problem. These heart attacks are described as “silent,” because their symptoms are not as obvious as a classic heart attack. The risks for having a silent attack are the same as those that have more obvious symptoms.

You may mistake an SMI for something such as:

  • Indigestion
  • Nausea
  • Muscle pain
  • The flu
  • Only mild pain or discomfort in the chest that may go away
  • Discomfort in one or both arms
  • Dizziness or shortness of breath
  • Cold sweats
  • Heart burn

Unfortunately, SMIs are just as dangerous as any other heart attack, and those who have SMIs are at an increased risk of having another, potentially fatal heart attack in the future. That’s because an SMI is just like any heart attack, because without oxygen-risk blood, the heart cannot carry out its functions, and the longer your heart lacks steady blood flow, the more damage that will occur.

Note: Silent heart attacks are more common in men than women, and most common in older people over the age of 75.

What Should I Do if I Think I’ve Had an SMI?

SMIs are just as dangerous as classic heart attacks, yet they are more difficult to detect for the lay person. That’s why you should have your potential SMI evaluated by an emergency physician as soon as possible, which can be diagnosed with imaging tests like an electrocardiogram, echocardiogram, and others. These and other tests, such as a CT scan or MRI of the heart can reveals changes that can indicate you’ve had an SMI.

Why Are Some Heart Attacks Silent?

It may be surprising to know that SMIs have the same symptoms as a “regular” heart attack, which would lead to the question, “why?” There are several reasons why you may have an SMI and not know it, such as: having a high pain threshold, using diabetic or chronic kidney medication affecting pain impulse nerves, and likely most often it is because the patient ignores unpleasant but not catastrophic symptoms.

Treatment for an SMI

If you’ve had an SMI, you likely have significant coronary artery disease. You will receive the same treatments as any other person who has survived a heart attack, including medication, possible surgery to place stents or bypass surgery, preventing the onset of heart failure, and preventing the possibility of death from cardiac arrhythmias. Your doctor may also recommend a stress test to determine the threshold of exercise that produces ischemia, which can give your medical team further information regarding which physical activities are safe for you to do.

Contact Advance ER for Immediate Heart Attack Treatment

A heart attack can be deadly, even an SMI. It’s even possible to die from an SMI, no matter whether the person has a prior history of cardiac problems. Without treatment for an SMI, your long-term prognosis will be worse than those who had prompt diagnosis and proper treatment for a heart attack.

Contact us at Advance ER for further information at (214) 494-8222, or simply come to our freestanding emergency room to be seen right away for a medical emergency. We have two locations in Galleria and Park Cities, for your convenience.