Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"What is a silent heart attack?"
I always wondered if it's possible for someone to have a heart attack and not know it. And if this happens, can this damage the heart?
I recommend you discuss this with your doctor, who is your best source of information. Yes, it is possible to have a heart attack and not experience any specific symptoms or electrical changes in the heart and people in the lay-community sometimes refer to this phenomenon as having a "silent" heart attack. You may ask yourself, "if the heart attack is silent, then how do doctors even know that is is happening?" The answer lies in the fact that there are multiple pieces of information that provide evidence that a heart attack is occurring. The oldest are physical symptoms. For a long time, doctors have recognized that the sudden onset of persistent crushing chest pain below the breastbone, shortness of breath, and other symptoms were associated with having a heart attack. But as medical science developed, new methods of detecting heart attack came along. One was called the EKG, which measures patterns of electrical activity in the heart. Physicians noticed that specific electrical changes were associated with having a heart attack, so the EKG became an important diagnostic tool. Using the EKG, doctors were able to see evidence of heart attacks in some people who never had symptoms, or at least never remembered having them. But some people can have heart attacks that don't cause electrical changes in the heart, so other tests had to come along before we could begin to understand this phenomenon. Rarely, people show up to a doctor's office or hospital with symptoms that may or may not be related to a heart attack and they end up receiving a broad range of tests. Blood tests are now available that look for small amounts of proteins released from dying heart muscle during a heart attack. In some circumstances these tests can detect minor heart attacks that are not significant enough to cause symptoms or electrical changes in the heart. Usually minor heart attacks that are only detectable by small changes in blood tests do not cause severe or lasting damage to the heart. If you are concerned about having a silent heart attack, or are just looking for more information, visiting a doctor is your best source of information. That way you can discuss the signs and symptoms of a heart attack and have all your questions answered. If you happen to have risk factors for coronary artery disease, your doctor can help you improve your heart health and avoid a heart attack, silent or otherwise.
Need more info?See a doctor today
Zocdoc Answers is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment. Medical professionals who provide responses to health-related questions are intended third party beneficiaries with certain rights under Zocdoc’s Terms of Service.