A heart attack can come with a number of obvious symptoms such as chest pain and pressure or pain in the arm, neck, or jaw. Yet, in nearly half of all heart attack cases, these symptoms are noticeably absent. In fact, the symptoms that do appear may be so mild and unremarkable that a patient may think nothing of them at all.
What is a Silent Heart Attack?
A silent heart attack, or silent myocardial infarction (SMI), is a heart attack with minimal to no associated symptoms. Due to this lack of symptoms, the patient is unaware that they have suffered a major cardiovascular event. Instead, they may attribute seemingly minor signs like fatigue or mild chest discomfort to illnesses like the flu or indigestion.
Despite the lack of symptoms, silent heart attacks are still heart attacks and can have some serious consequences, leaving behind scar tissue, weakening the heart, and increasing the risk for a subsequent, more serious heart attack. For this reason, it is important to mention all potential signs, even seemingly insignificant ones, to your physician, particularly if you also have contributing risk factors such as Type 2 diabetes.
How Does Type 2 Diabetes Increase the Risk of Silent Heart Attack?
Having diabetes increases the risk of developing many different health conditions, several of which directly impact the heart. When it comes to silent heart attacks, diabetics are particularly susceptible for a couple of reasons:
- Higher Risk of Heart Disease – Diabetic patients are at an increased risk of silent heart attack in large part because the condition has already put their heart in a more precarious position overall. In addition to damaging levels of blood glucose, patients are also more likely to experience high cholesterol and obesity, all of which strain the cardiovascular system.
- Autonomic Neuropathy – A serious side effect of diabetes is damage to the autonomic nervous system. The nerves of this system are responsible for controlling several bodily functions including breathing, digestion, and heart rate. Furthermore, nerve damage can reduce a patient’s ability to feel pain, including the painful symptoms associated with heart attack, making the signs easier to miss.
Studies have shown that up to 16 percent of participants with Type 2 diabetes are also likely to have suffered a silent heart attack. It is a connection that cannot be ignored. If you have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, it is important to understand the risks associated with the condition and to be vigilant in maintaining and monitoring your health. Contact any location of Cardiovascular Institute of the South to learn more and to request an appointment with a cardiologist who can help you oversee your cardiovascular wellbeing.