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Jun 23, 2016

"Silent" Heart Attacks Common in Middle-Aged Adults

Nearly half of all heart attacks go unnoticed.

Nearly half of all heart attacks go unnoticed in middle-aged adults, according to the results of a large U.S. study published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

Known as the ARIC (Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities) study, this study followed nearly 9,500 U.S. adults to investigate risk factors related to heart disease—the leading killer of men and women in the United States. Participants were 54 years old on average and free of heart disease at the start of the study.

Across an average of nine years, participants completed interviews and medical exams to assess their health and lifestyle. Exams included electrocardiograms or ECGs, which can detect evidence of heart attack.

During the follow-up period, 4% of participants had been diagnosed with heart attack. But upon further investigation, another 3% of participants had “silent” heart attacks based on ECG results. Silent heart attacks occur when blood flow to the heart is stopped, but there are no obvious symptoms.

Overall, silent heart attacks accounted for 45% of all heart attacks in the study. Based on analysis, adults with evidence of silent heart attacks had 34% greater risk of death than adults with no history of heart attack.

Researchers also note that while silent heart attacks were more common in men than women, silent heart attacks were associated with greater risk of death in women.

Based on findings, authors conclude that silent heart attacks are quite common in middle-aged adults. This study suggests that nearly half of all heart attacks go unnoticed, which is particularly concerning given patients’ increased cardiovascular risk. Having a heart attack significantly increases risk for future heart events, and silent heart attacks are no exception.

Therefore, authors highlight the need for better detection of silent heart attacks. It’s important that patients know their cardiovascular risk to properly address any risk factors they may have. Authors also encourage future research to explore both sex and race differences related to silent heart attacks. With additional research, experts hope to better understand silent heart attacks and improve outcomes for all heart attack patients.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Who is at risk for heart attack?
  • The most common risk factors for heart attack include increased age, tobacco use, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, stress, illegal drug use, lack of physical activity and family history of heart attack.
  • How can I help prevent a second heart attack?
  • Patients with a history of heart attack have significantly increased risk of a second heart event. Participating in a cardiac rehabilitation program can help patients regain strength after a heart attack and teach individuals how to prevent a second heart attack, like by quitting smoking, reducing blood pressure, staying active, eating healthy, and adhering to therapies advised by the doctor.

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