A heart attack is a serious medical emergency, that requires urgent medical treatment in order to minimise potential damage to the heart muscle. This week, a study on the incidence of heart attacks revealed that 45% of heart attacks appear to be clinically silent, with no visible symptoms.

So, what is a heart attack?

A heart attack is when the blood supply to the heart is suddenly blocked. This deprives the heart muscle of blood, and therefore of oxygen, which can seriously damage it. It's essential that anyone suspected of having a heart attack goes straight to A&E. Time is key, for heart attack treatment: the quicker you're administered vital medication, the quicker you restore oxygen to your heart muscle, the more heart function you preserve.

Anyone can have a heart attack, at any age. However, there are various risk-factors for heart-attacks, that make some people much more likely to suffer from one. Some risk-factors are unavoidable, such as age, gender and ethnicity: those aged over 45 are more at-risk than those aged under; men are more at-risk than women; people of South Asian and African ethnicity are more at-risk than Europeans. Genetics also play an important role in heart-attack risk.

Despite this, most risk-factors for heart attacks are lifestyle-related. Coronary Heart Disease - the build-up of fatty deposits in the major arteries to the heart - is a major cause of heart attacks. It's estimated that over 2.3 million people in the UK are living with CHD, 60% of these are male. The lifestyle factors contributing to CHD, and therefore increased risk of heart attacks are:

  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • High-fat diet
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Excessive alcohol consumption

So, we've all seen the dramatic TV scenes, of actors clutching their chests and dramatically collapsing, in the middle of raging confrontations. But is this really how a heart attack begins? Well, in the approximately 55% of non-silent heart attacks, these are the symptoms to look out for:

  • Chest pain
    • This is sometimes only mild, and can be mistaken for indigestion!
    • In some cases, this pain can also radiate to other parts of the body, including the neck, jaw, back and arms.
  • Feeling weak or lightheaded
  • Sudden feelings of severe anxiety
  • Shortness of breath

However, according to this new research, almost 50% of people will experience no symptoms at all, while having a "silent" heart-attack. How do you know if you're having a silent heart attack? Well, unless you coincidentally happen to be hooked up to an ECG machine at the time, you won't!

Nevertheless, there are a couple of tests that your doctor can do, to detect whether you have had a silent heart attack before:

  • An ECG (electrocardiogram) of the heart.
    • A simple medical tests, measuring the electrical activity of the heart
    • Sensors are attached to the body at various specific points, producing an ECG graph that the doctor can interpret
  • Blood test for cardiac enzymes
    • Specific enzymes are released by the heart tissue when a heart attack happens
    • These can be measured to not only confirm a heart attack occurred, but exactly how much damage was caused.

Once it's been identified that a patient has suffered from a silent heart-attack, it's never too late to change any bad habits! Sometimes, a medical event such as a heart-attack is the incentive we need to kick-start a healthier lifestyle. But can we really afford to be so complacent, until such an serious emergency?

For anyone concerned, or even just curious, about their heart health - a GP clinic should be your first port of call. During one 30-minute GP appointment, all such measurements, blood tests, and ECG can be performed, to evaluate your heart health, and heart attack risk. Our GPs at London Doctors Clinic are more than happy to assist patients in all manner of medical screening, especially heart health.

After this concerning new heart-attack research has been revealed, isn't it time we all take that first proactive step in considering and assessing our heart health? Book in today.