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Silent heart attacks may look a lot different from what you’re used to seeing in the movies. Instead of clutching your chest and collapsing, you may experience no symptoms or just a brief feeling of unease.
However, these episodes can be just as serious as any conventional heart attack. Learn how to recognize and prevent silent heart attacks.
While some studies suggest that women are at higher risk, silent heart attacks affect both sexes. There’s also some controversy about how common they are, with estimates ranging from about 20% to 50% of total heart attacks.
1. Understand the causes. Similar factors are involved in any heart attack. Blood flow to the heart is interrupted, causing damage to the muscle. This increases the chances of repeat heart attacks.
2. Recognize the symptoms. Common symptoms include discomfort in the chest or other body parts, as well as shortness of breath, heartburn, and fatigue. These signs can be easily confused with other conditions, so it’s important to talk with your doctor if you notice unusual changes without any apparent reason.
3. Seek medical care. Imaging tests such as electrocardiograms can confirm if you’re having a heart attack. Emergency rooms may also test your blood for certain proteins. Prompt care is essential, so it’s wise to call 911 even if it is indigestion.
4. Consider medication. Your doctor will probably prescribe medications that you’ll need to take for the rest of your life. That may include anticoagulants, ACE inhibitors, and beta blockers, as well as aspirin.
5. Know your risks. Your chances of having a silent heart attack increase if you have diabetes or a family history of heart conditions. Following your doctor’s recommendations can help you to protect your quality of life.
Avoiding conventional and silent heart attacks involves many of the same habits. Simple lifestyle changes can make a big difference.
1. Manage blood pressure. High blood pressure typically has no symptoms but can damage your arteries. The American Heart Association recommends screenings at least once every two years, starting at age 20.
2. Check your cholesterol. Plaque made up of cholesterol, fat, and calcium can build up and clog your arteries. Ask your doctor about doing a fasting lipoprotein profile at least every four to six years.
3. Lose weight. Excess pounds put an extra burden on your heart. Even small reductions in body fat can extend your life.
4. Eat healthily. Maintain your weight with a balanced diet you can stick with for the long term. Focus on whole foods like vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and fish.
5. Exercise regularly. Physical activity conditions your muscles, including your heart. Train for aerobic fitness and strength.
6. Reduce stress. Tension and lack of sleep can also take a toll on your heart. Find relaxation practices that work for you, such as meditation and breathing exercises. Go to bed and wake up on a regular schedule.
7. Stay connected. Studies show that close and supportive relationships positively affect your heart. Spend time with family and friends. Join a club where you can meet others who share your interests.
8. Quit smoking. Tobacco is a major cause of heart attacks and strokes. If you’ve tried to stop smoking in the past, give yourself another chance. Combining methods like nicotine replacement and adequate social support may help you to stay tobacco-free.
You can lower your risk for silent heart attacks by following a healthy lifestyle. If you notice any unusual symptoms like pressure in your chest or trouble breathing, seek immediate medical attention that can help you to make a fuller recovery.
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