Skip to content

50+: Live Better, Longer

Silent Symptoms

Becoming aware of unrecognized heart attacks.
Font Size
A
A
A

WebMD Feature

Feb. 21, 2000 (San Francisco) -- You'd certainly know if you were having a heart attack, wouldn't you? After all, you couldn't possibly miss symptoms as unmistakable as crushing chest pain or extreme shortness of breath.

Or could you? As it turns out, more than one in five peopleover the age of 65 who have heart attacks have "unrecognized" ones, according to a study published in the January 2000 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Researchers evaluated nearly 6,000 men and women aged 65 and above. Of the 901 subjects in whom an electrocardiogram -- a test to record the electrical current that runs through the heart muscle -- indicated a prior heart attack, more than one fifth had had heart attacks that had gone undetected until the test was done. Most patients had no clear indications of cardiovascular disease when they started the study. These so-called "silent" heart attacks are of two types, says P. K. Shah, M.D., Director of Cardiology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles. "One kind is truly silent -- it has no symptoms. The other has symptoms, but they are either very mild or are ignored because they are usually not associated with heart attacks, such as sweating or indigestion."

Recommended Related to Healthy Seniors

Healthy Body, Healthy Mind

Americans are living longer than ever before. And healthy seniors can look forward to many years of active life, thanks to the ability to repair or replace damaged joints, remove cataracts, treat heart problems, and other advances. But there’s a downside. Because we are living longer, we’re more likely to suffer from age-related memory loss and dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease. For many seniors, dementia is the worst fear of old age. Research shows that the risk of some cognitive problems is...

Read the Healthy Body, Healthy Mind article > >

Because these silent heart attacks go undetected, they can't be treated.This increases the chances of underlying heart disease becomingmore advanced and causing another, more serious heart attack.But with simple awareness, you can do much to reduce the risk of overlooking such a "silent" attack.

Taken by Surprise

Fourteen years ago, Joseph Smith (not his real name), an 80-year-old Californian, suffered an episode of vertigo that caused him to go to the emergency room. An electrocardiogram revealed that he had at some point in the past suffered a silent heart attack that his doctor described as "significant."

"Looking back, I couldn't think of any signs or symptoms thatI'd missed, and I was disturbed to learn that I'd had a heart attackand not known it," Smith says.

Then, eight years later, Smith experienced mild chest pains but waited three months before seeing a doctor. When he finally went for medical help, a stress test and an angiogram revealed blocked coronary arteries, and he underwent quintuple bypass surgery. Today, he's relatively healthy, considering his history.

Today on WebMD

blueberries
Eating for a longer, healthier life.
romantic couple
Dr. Ruth’s bedroom tips for long-term couples.
 
womans finger tied with string
Learn how we remember, and why we forget.
man reviewing building plans
Do you know how to stay healthy as you age?
 
fast healthy snack ideas
Article
how healthy is your mouth
Tool
 
dog on couch
Tool
doctor holding syringe
Slideshow
 
champagne toast
Slideshow
Two women wearing white leotards back to back
Quiz
 
Man feeding woman
Slideshow
two senior women laughing
Article