Health Care

Could You Have A Heart Attack and Not Know It?

A young woman experiencing chest pain.
Choose the health content that's right for you, and get it delivered right in your inbox

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:

  • Dizziness
  • Heartburn or constant indigestion
  • Nausea
  • 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
  • Weight

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.

Recent Blogs

A young woman explores her choices for menstrual medication.
First Aid Kit Essentials
A Physician Checks Her Patient's Blood Pressure
Your 2024 Wellness Checklist
Making the Most of Your Child’s Back-To-School Physical
Older female patient looking at a document with her nurse
Osteoporosis and Bone Density: Who Needs the Screening and When?
Hernias 101: What You Need to Know
View More Articles