Heart attacks are not always as dramatic and intense as you might think.
In fact, heart attacks can happen without your knowing. In essence, a
silent heart attack occurs when there is a temporary lack of oxygen to
the heart, also known as silent ischemia. Here are some of the causes
for silent heart attacks, as well as warning signs to help detect one
without missing a beat.
Decreased oxygen flow to the heart is the underlying cause of silent heart
attacks. They can occur before and after a regular heart attack. This
can be due in part to arterial constriction, and multiple factors can
contribute. For example, high blood pressure makes it more difficult for
oxygenated blood to travel to and from the heart. “Having high blood
pressure often coincides with arterial plaque buildup caused by high cholesterol,” says
Andrew Michaels, MD, a board-certified internal medicine, interventional cardiology, and cardiovascular
disease physician at
Humboldt Medical Specialists. As blood vessels become more constricted, blood pressure rises, creating
a bottleneck effect. This delays the delivery time of blood to its designated
targets. Over time, these blood vessels lose their elasticity and ability
to maintain adequate blood flow. This can be a result of inadequate nutrition
and living a sedentary lifestyle.
The signs and symptoms of a silent heart attack are often broad and mild,
making them that much harder to detect. “Prolonged lack of oxygenated
blood to the heart can result in the heart deteriorating, analagous to
the way that a fish out of water can’t breathe”, says Dr.
Michaels. “In both instances, what they need to flow through them
isn’t there. The negative effects of decreased blood flow to the
heart build up over time, and sometimes the effects are not easily noticed.”
Something as simple as indigestion or nausea can be a sign of heart trouble.
Being in tune with your body, however, promotes better awareness when
something goes wrong.
“If you're having trouble catching your breath or feeling discomfort
from poor circulation, your body may be telling you something is wrong
with your heart, and it's time to see your doctor and potentially
make a lifestyle change”, notes Dr. Michaels. Those who have already
had a heart attack are at greater risk for one in the future, as well
as for silent heart attacks.
How to Decrease Risk
Waiting until you have a sudden change in health before seeing your doctor
increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Seeing your doctor
at the onset of symptoms, and getting regular tests to ensure your ticker
is running as it should, decreases risk. Additionally, these small lifestyle
changes can have a great impact on health:
- If you spend hours behind a desk, try standing up while you work once or
twice an hour.
- Eat foods that promote good cholesterol and decrease bad cholesterol, such
as unsaturated fats and fresh vegetables.
- Mitigate life stressors- put the next day’s plans out of your mind
before you go to sleep, or learn simple breathing exercises.
- Don’t forget the importance of a healthy social life—laughter
and love have physiological and mental benefits.
Do you know what steps to take for better heart health? Are you taking
them? Share your comments below.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.