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The Silent Killer - Monday, July 29, 2013

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 heart attack.”

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 equally fatal.

"Obviously, a 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.”

The classic 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.


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