We are saddened to hear that famed television personality Dick Clark died of a heart attack on Wednesday morning in Los Angeles. Now is as good of a time as any to freshen up on our knowledge of the human heart and heart disease.
Most of us are relatively familiar with a typical heart attack. Crushing, severe chest pain is the universally accepted warning sign of a heart attack, while other symptoms such as heart burn may lead us to inquire for more testing. But, what happens when there are virtually no symptoms at all?
“A silent heart attack.”
Essentially, a silent heart attack occurs when there is a lack of oxygen to the heart muscle. Symptoms are so mild, they are often downplayed and thought to be something else.
Symptoms that might suggest a silent heart attack include:
- Nausea, light-headedness, fainting, sweating
- Fatigue, weakness
- Difficulty breathing
Symptoms can occur suddenly or they may develop slowly and vary in intensely. Particular attention should be paid if more than one of these symptoms is felt.
Heart disease becomes a great risk when symptoms go unrecognized. The longer this happens, the more likely heart disease will progress and damage to the heart will be greater. Having a silent heart attack may put you at risk for a second heart attack. And women are at greater risk then men because they typically do not have the usual symptoms of a heart attack.
A review of your symptoms, health history and a physical exam can help determine if more tests are necessary. The only way to tell if you've had a silent heart attack is to have additional tests, such as an electrocardiogram, echocardiogram or other imaging tests. Routine heart screening and annual exams for cholesterol and blood pressure can reduce the risk factors for a silent heart attack.
Seek medical attention from a local emergency room if you’re experiencing signs and symptoms of a heart attack or even a silent heart attack. In the event of an emergency, call 9-1-1 immediately.
- Dr. Thomas McKeown, medical director of Emergency Services at Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital