Important Things That You Should Know About Silent Heart Attacks

WORDS LIM TECK CHOON

DR PATRICK TIAU WEI JYUNG
Consultant Cardiologist
Sunway Medical Centre

Dr Patrick Tiau reveals that silent heart attacks, also known as silent myocardial infarction, account for 45% of heart attacks.

These heart attacks are “silent” because they occur without the usual, recognizable symptoms of a heart attack.

COMMON SYMPTOMS OF HEART ATTACK
  • Chest pain (often described as heavy or pressure sensation)
  • Radiating pain in the arm, neck, or jaw
  • Sudden shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness
HOWEVER, THESE SYMPTOMS ARE USUALLY NOT PRESENT WHEN ONE HAS A SILENT HEART ATTACK!
Because of this, many people may not know that they have experienced one until days or even weeks after.

However, Dr Patrick shares that there are some early warning signs to look out for.

SIGNS THAT YOU MAY HAVE HAD A SILENT HEART ATTACK

It’s good to consult a doctor when you have concerns, especially if you experience these signs and fall under the high-risk below (see below).

  • Feeling tired
  • Indigestion
  • Nausea
  • Sweating.

Dr Patrick says, “We have come across many patients who have dismissed the early warning symptoms as simply feeling tired, indigestion, nausea or sweating. By the time they seek out medical treatment for these symptoms, they are shocked to learn that what they are experiencing is actually due to a reduced blood flow to their heart, and that has caused them to have a silent heart attack.”

Silent heart attacks can lead to more serious health complications if left untreated over an extended period of time, such as an increased risk of another, potentially more deadly heart attack.

COMMON RISKS OF SILENT HEART ATTACKS
RISKS THAT CANNOT BE AVOIDED 
  • Age. The risk increases as we grow older.
  • Gender. Men are more at risk than women. However, women are more prone to a higher risk of complications after experiencing one, especially if they are diabetic.
  • Family history. The risk is higher for people with a family history of heart diseases.
RISKS THAT CAN BE MODIFIED 
  • Smoking. Chemicals in cigarettes stimulate one’s heartbeat and can dramatically increase one’s risk of heart attack.
  • High cholesterol. Individuals with elevated cholesterol levels can lead to formation of atherosclerotic plaque in the blood vessel and reduce blood flow to the heart.
  • High blood pressure: Having high blood pressure puts extra strain on the heart muscle. Over time, this causes the heart muscle to stiffen, thicken, and perform less optimally.
  • Individuals that are overweight or obese, especially when their weight tends to sit at the waist, are more at risk even if they do not have any other risk factors.
  • Physical inactivity. Doing regular exercise helps protect the heart by keeping under control other risk factors such as cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.

“Undeniably our heart health is essential to allowing us to have a well-balanced and fulfilling life,” he says. “The heart itself is the first and last sign of life that is responsible for, quite literally, keeping us going. In combatting heart attacks, the most important thing to remember is that prevention is definitely better than cure.”

DR PATRICK’S TIPS TO REDUCE YOUR RISK OF SILENT HEART ATTACKS

Make the necessary small changes to daily lifestyle to reduce one’s risk factors. These changes include:

  • Regularly monitor blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Get sufficient exercise
  • Quit smoking
  • Eat a balanced diet of fruit, vegetables, lean meats and whole grains
  • Ensure that one’s blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar are well-controlled
  • Inform a doctor as soon as possible about any unusual symptoms that may indicate a silent heart attack

Once you go home from the hospital, it is essential that you keep taking your medications as prescribed. “This will ensure your heart health is kept in check, possibly for the rest of your life,” says Dr Patrick.

Consider joining a support group. Dr Patrick acknowledges that heart attack survivors may start to develop feelings of shock, sadness, and anxiety. This is normal, and these feelings can be managed with the right support.

“Some people find it helpful to join a support group where they can talk with others that have gone through a similar experience, or seek out companionship and encouragement through avenues such as the gym, or yoga classes,” he advises.

What Every Parent Should Know about Congenital Heart Defects in Children

WORDS DR CHOO KOK KUAN

DR CHOO KOK KUAN
Consultant Paediatrician and Paediatric Cardiologist
Subang Jaya Medical Centre

The most common heart disease among children is known as congenital heart defects.

This condition occurs when the heart or the blood vessels near the heart do not develop normally before birth.

HOW COMMON IS THIS CONDITION?

According to our Ministry of Health, the incidence of congenital heart defects among children is about 8 to 10 per 1,000 live births.

With an average of 500,000 deliveries in Malaysia each year, the number of children born with congenital heart defects is about 5,000 a year, of which two-thirds will require surgical intervention.

THE CAUSES & RISK FACTORS

Most congenital heart defects have no known cause.

They may sometimes run in families.

Some congenital heart defects may be associated with genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome, Turner syndrome, Williams syndrome, etc.

Some children have a higher risk of developing congenital heart defects if the mother has diabetes or rubella, or has taken certain medications such as anti-epileptic drugs, during pregnancy.

DETECTION OF CONGENITAL HEART DEFECTS

Sometimes a heart defect can be diagnosed before a baby is born.

However, defects are usually identified days or even months after birth, when symptoms become obvious.

Less serious congenital heart defects may not show any noticeable signs or symptoms, so they may only be diagnosed later in childhood.

It is also possible to have a heart defect and show no symptoms at all.

POSSIBLE SIGNS THAT A BABY OR YOUNG CHILD MAY HAVE CONGENITAL HEART DEFECTS
  • Rapid breathing
  • Bluish discolouration commonly noticed around the lips, fingernails, palms of the hands, and soles of the feet
  • Shortness of breath during feeding, leading to poor weight gain
  • Poor growth
  • Recurrent lung infection
WILL A CHILD WITH CONGENITAL HEART DEFECTS BE OKAY?

As a result of medical advancements, the outlook for congenital heart diseases is increasingly positive.

Most children with this condition reach their adulthood.

In fact, children with simple conditions may lead completely normal lives, while those with more complex conditions usually face more challenges that can nevertheless be addressed with the right measures in place.

6 THINGS THAT EVERY PARENT OF CHILDREN WITH CONGENITAL HEART DEFECTS SHOULD KNOW AND DO
  1. Heart medications can be very strong and dangerous if not given correctly. Parents must understand how much medicine to give and how to give it. If the child takes a blood thinner, parents must have clear instructions on how to give this medicine safely.
  2. Ensure the child eats well and receives adequate nutrition. They often tire when eating, so they eat less and may not get enough calories.
  3. Prevention of infections is crucial. Although an infection in the heart (endocarditis) is uncommon, children with heart defects have a greater risk of developing this. Good dental hygiene goes a long way toward preventing endocarditis by reducing the risk of tooth or gum infection. Parents can get more information from cardiologist about the latest guidelines on antimicrobial prophylaxis against infective endocarditis. These children must also get all the recommended vaccinations.
  4. Most children with a congenital heart defect can be physically active without restrictions. In fact, children are encouraged to be physically active to keep their hearts fit and to avoid obesity, unless they have a few specific heart conditions.
  5. Emotional support will help children who may have self-esteem issues because of how they look. They may have scars from surgery, and they may be smaller, or have limits on how active they can be.
  6. As children transition to adulthood, parents can gradually teach them about their heart defect and guide them in how to care for their own health without being overly protective.