In this season of Halloween, there are lots of scary stories about silent killers. Beware: whether you’re a caregiver or need care for a loved one or yourself, this is serious heart health news for people 65 years or older.
A silent heart attack is pretty sneaky. An older adult could experience some of the following: be unusually tired, short of breath after normal, non-stair climbing exertion, and / or feel like a bad case of the flu. According to Dr. Andrew Arai, of the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, sometimes people have silent heart attacks in their sleep and don’t even realize it. The lack of typical symptoms, such as chest pain (maybe radiating to the arm), nausea, sweating, and shortness of breath means that many people who have silent heart attacks put the incident down to just not feeling well and fail to be treated. Dr. Arai says, “if you’re an older person and feeling unwell, don’t blow it off, go to the doctor. People who have silent heart attacks are at the same risk of fatality as those who have a recognized (diagnosed) attack; they just don’t receive treatment.”
Diabetics are more likely to have silent heart attacks than other people of the same age, which is why this information is such an important part of your personal health history. According to Dr. Michael Shen, of the Cleveland Clinic in Florida, “about 26% of diabetics had silent heart attacks, compared with 11% who had clinically recognized events.” In a New York Times article, Dr. LeRoy Rabbani, director of Cardiac Intensive Care of Columbia University Medical Center in New York, explained that since diabetic patients tend to have neuropathy, or nerve damage they are less likely to feel the pain of a heart attack.
The bottom line is this: untreated heart attacks are really more dangerous than the ones we know about, since with the lack of indicators, a person may not know they have coronary atherosclerosis until the second, fatal heart attack. This news is one more reason to have that annual physical and carefully fill out the personal and family health history.