Most of us have a
preconceived image of what a heart attack looks like. We imagine shooting pains
in the arm, a clutching of the chest, gasps of air, and an urgent 911 phone
call. But research has increasingly shown that quieter, less overt symptoms are
more common among older adults—and just as deadly. It’s known as a "silent
According to a new
research published in the Journal of the
American Medical Association, silent heart attacks were twice as common
among older patients when compared to immediately recognized attacks, and
recognized heart attack presents serious consequences in the short term,” said Thomas
Mulhearn, MD, cardiologist with Cardiovascular Specialists, an affiliate of
Imperial Health. "But silent heart attacks are just as dangerous in the
long-term. Why? Because patients tend to ignore the symptoms and, left
untreated, those symptoms can eventually become quite serious.”
symptoms of heart attack include chest pain, radiating pain in the arms,
nausea, shortness of breath and sweating, according to Dr. Mulhearn, but for
victims of a silent attack, symptoms are vaguer and often mimic common
conditions like a cold, the flu, or indigestion.
That’s not to say
that older patients should panic if they feel like they have a cold or the flu,
Dr. Dr. Mulhearn said. "in many cases, a
cold is a cold. But if the symptoms linger for a long time without explanation
and you find yourself constantly fatigued and feeling generally terrible, it’s
time to visit a doctor, especially if you have a history of heart disease,
whether personally or in your family, or experience other symptoms, like
tightness in the chest.” He noted that patients with diabetes, high cholesterol
and/or high blood pressure should take lingering symptoms seriously. "Smokers,
too,” he added.
Of the clinical
group outlined in the Journal study,
26 percent of patients with diabetes had silent heart attacks, compared with 11
percent who had clinically recognized heart attacks.
"If you feel
terrible for a long period of time and don’t know why, and if you know your
risk factors for cardiovascular disease are high, it’s best to talk to your
doctor rather than shrug off the symptoms, as many elderly patients and their
caregivers are likely to do,” Dr. Mulhearn said.
Call Cardiovascular Specialists for more
information about any heart health concern at (337) 478-3813.