‘Silent’ heart attacks are being missed by scans and affect more people than you think

Heart, News & Analysis

12th November 2015

According to research in the Journal of the American Medical Association, many people suffer ‘silent heart attacks’ which go unnoticed but are serious enough to leave scars on the heart.

The study, led by Dr David Bluemke, looked at heart scans of more than 1,800 people between the ages of 45 and 84, all of whom believed they were free of heart disease when they entered the study in 2002.

Heart scans a decade later revealed that almost eight per cent of participants had scars caused by heart attacks, and 78 per cent of these had never been detected.

The symptoms of these ‘silent’ heart attacks could include mild chest pain, nausea, vomiting, unexplained fatigue, heartburn, shortness of breath or even discomfort in the neck or jaw, according to the study authors.

The researchers found that men are over five times more likely than women to have silent heart attacks. People who smoke and are overweight are also at an increased risk.

The researchers say that the health impact of these silent heart attacks ‘remains to be defined’, though scarring can cause abnormal heart rhythms. Seventy per cent of patients who die following cardiac arrests show evidence of having had previous, undetected heart attacks.

Dr Kevin Marzo, chief of cardiology at Winthrop-University Hospital in New York, reviewed the research. He believes that this study supports the evidence that routine scans performed by GPs may only pick up a small percentage of silent heart attacks.

He says that taking steps to improve lifestyle is the most effective way to manage heart attack risk.