When people in the movies and on TV have a heart attack, they almost always grimace and clutch their chests. It can happen that way in real life too, with obvious and painful symptoms that stop you in your tracks.
But what most of us don’t realize is that it’s possible to have (and even die of) a heart attack and never know what hit you. These “silent” heart attacks can happen without any classic heart attack symptoms, and you may not know you even had a heart attack until your doctor diagnoses it with an EKG (electrocardiogram) or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).
But make no mistake: Silent heart attacks can be just as deadly.
Arm yourself with the information that can save your life. Understand your risk for heart attack and learn to identify both the obvious and more subtle symptoms to protect your whole health.
How Heart Attack Happens
Heart attack is partial or complete blockage of blood flow to an artery in your heart. This causes damage to your heart tissue and, if not treated immediately, death.
Causes of a blocked heart artery include a blood clot from somewhere else in the body, such as a vein in the leg, or plaque buildup in the artery itself that reduces or completely stops blood flow. Plaque is a fatty substance made of fat, cholesterol, calcium and other materials in the blood that collects on artery walls over time. Plaque buildup is why people have coronary bypass surgery.
Heart Attack Symptoms
The classic heart attack symptoms can develop slowly or happen suddenly. They include:
- Ache in your neck, jaw, shoulders, arms or back
- Cold sweats or clamminess
- Feeling lightheaded
- Pain in your chest that feels like tightness, pressure or squeezing
But some people (often women) can have more subtle heart attack symptoms that are easily mistaken for other health conditions, such as anxiety. These include:
- Heartburn or constant indigestion
- Pressure between your shoulder blades
- Rapid heart beat
- Trouble sleeping
- Unexplained extreme fatigue that can last for days
Know Your Risks for Heart Attack
Whether you’re having a silent heart attack or a heart attack with more classic symptoms, understanding your risk factors is often your best defense. While there are some risk factors you cannot control — such as your age, ethnic background or family history — you can have a direct impact on others, including your:
- Blood pressure
- Cholesterol levels
- Use of cigarettes
Talk with your doctor about lifestyle changes that can help you reduce your risk for heart disease. With the proper guidance and support, you can make positive changes that improve your whole health.
Act Fast With Heart Attack Symptoms
Reduce or eliminate the risk factors within your control, and learn the warning signs for all types of heart attacks. Most importantly, if you ever think you’re having a heart attack, call 911 immediately.
Do not have a friend or loved one drive you, or try to drive yourself. Paramedics are trained to provide life-saving care for you on the way to the hospital and can also prepare the hospital staff for your arrival, making your transition quicker and easier.
We have emergency rooms located throughout the nation. See our extensive network here. And if you're ever in need of heart care, our award-winning network of emergency heart care specialists ready to help.