Can You Have a Heart Attack and Not Even Know It?

If you haven’t experienced a heart attack firsthand, you’re probably aware of at least a few of its telltale symptoms — such as chest pain, sweating, or shortness of breath.

The problem is, not all heart attacks look alike — neither from the outside nor on the inside. While many people rush to the emergency room thinking they’re having a heart attack when they aren’t, many also fail to get help because they don’t think their symptoms look or feel like a heart attack “should.”

Is it possible to have a heart attack and completely miss it? Here’s how many people’s bodies react to heart trouble, and what you might be able to do to prevent it.

Do all heart attacks have symptoms?

Heart attack

Heart attack | iStock.com/champja

In the United States, it’s estimated that a heart attack occurs every 40 seconds.

Not all men or women who have a heart attack experience classic signs or symptoms. In fact, it’s actually possible to have a heart attack without even knowing you’ve had one.

Some heart attacks — called silent heart attacks — happen so quickly or with such mild symptoms that people don’t even realize their hearts are in trouble. Many visit their doctors weeks or even months later for symptoms such as fatigue. Only after an EKG do they learn what their bodies have been through.

According to Harvard Health, almost half of all heart attacks are believed to be something less serious. This could put you at an even greater risk of severe health issues — or worse.

How to prevent a heart attack

Certain heart attack risk factors, such as age, can’t be controlled. That does not mean there’s nothing you can do to decrease your chances of having a heart attack — or prevent one altogether.

  • Quit smoking.
  • Exercise frequently.
  • Monitor your intake of saturated fat, sodium, and added sugar.
  • Eat plenty of plant-based foods and consume a variety of foods throughout the week.
  • Adopt healthy stress-management techniques.

If you’ve already had a heart attack, you’re not immune to additional heart trouble. But you’re not totally helpless in that regard, either.

Heart attack recovery: What comes next?

Heart monitor

Heart monitor | Evryka23/iStock/Getty Images

Recovering from a heart attack can be a long process. But the things you do now could prevent further health problems in the future.

Give your body the rest it needs. Things do have to change — but that can’t happen in a day. Your body does need time to recover and prepare for the road ahead.

Do what your doctor tells you. If they recommend a cardiac rehab program, use it. If they suggest cutting certain foods from your diet, stop eating them. Whether they refer you to a specialist or walk you through how to alter your lifestyle on your own, take their recommendations seriously.

Understand that you’re more likely to have a heart attack now than you were before. Having one heart attack increases your risk of experiencing another. The time to make lifestyle changes is now — not next week or six months from now.

The same habits that prevent heart attacks can still work even if you’ve already had one. Diet, exercise, and other healthy habits are meant to make your heart stronger and keep it strong. Your heart is just one organ, but it’s connected to other systems that also need care. Give your full body the treatment it deserves.