Could You Have a Heart Attack & Not Know it?

It is a surprising fact that nearly half of people who have a heart attack don’t realize it at the time. These so-called silent heart attacks are only diagnosed days or even months later, when a recording of the heart’s electrical activity (electrocardiogram) or other tests reveal evidence of damage to the heart.

One explanation for this phenomenon may be a higher-than-average tolerance in some people for pain. Other’s mistake their symptoms as indigestion or muscle strain.

Different sensations?

Many people don’t realize that during a heart attack, the classic symptom of chest pain happens only about half of the time. People sometimes describe heart attack symptoms as chest discomfort or pressure, while others say they feel an intense, crushing sensation or a deep ache similar to a toothache.

Certain people are less sensitive to pain than others, or they may deny pain and “tolerate it” because they don’t want to appear to be weak. Not everyone has a good sense of their own pain tolerance, however, a host of other factors (such as your emotional state) can affect pain perception. People with diabetes may be less sensitive to pain because the disease can deaden nerves (a condition known as diabetic neuropathy), theoretically raising their risk for a silent heart attack.

Where it may hurt

During a heart attack, the location of the pain can also vary quite a bit from person to person. It may occur in the arm, shoulder, neck, jaw, or elsewhere in the upper half of the body. Other non-classic symptoms that people often don’t attribute to a heart attack include nausea, vomiting, and weakness.

There’s no question that women are more likely to experience non-classic heart attack symptoms, but it’s important to remember that men can have those symptoms, too.

Heart attack symptoms

Although the most common sign of a heart attack in both men and women is the classic one — discomfort in the center of the chest that spreads through the upper body — this symptom doesn’t always occur. Some people experience non-classic symptoms, and these may be slightly more frequent in women and in older people.

Classic symptoms
  • Pressure, aching, or tightness in the centre of the chest
  • Pain or discomfort that radiates to the upper body, especially shoulders or neck and arms
  • Sweating
Non-classic symptoms
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Back or jaw pain
  • Unexplained fatigue
Reduce your risk of heart attack Don’t smoke

One of the best ways to protect yourself against a heart attack is by not smoking. The benefits of quitting show up after only a few months.

Maintain a healthy weight

Being overweight increases your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, cardiovascular disease and diabetes – risk factors of heart attack

Limit fats and cholesterol

Choose fat-free or low-fat dairy products. Limit saturated fats and avoid trans fats. Instead of butter, margarine and shortening, use monounsaturated oils (olive, canola and peanut) and polyunsaturated oils (corn, safflower, sesame, sunflower and soy).

Eat fish that has omega-3s

Eat fish that has omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and trout.

Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables

Eat at least three servings of fruits and at least four servings of vegetables daily.

“If you exercise regularly, you may lower your risk of a heart attack and stroke. If you are middle-aged or older and haven’t been exercising regularly or have a chronic health problem, show yourself to a doctor before you start an exercise program. To condition your heart safely Start at a comfortable level of exertion and schedule regular increments in exercise.”

Dr Manoj Luthra
Cardiac Surgery
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