Heart Attack: Silent Symptoms

Take a moment to imagine if this was your life.  You are a busy professional, physically fit and active.  Staying healthy is very much a part of your daily life and you’ve been given a clean bill of health year after year from your primary care physician.  However, in the back of your mind, you worry.  Your father had a heart attack in his 50s and so did your brother.  You are also a male in your 50s.

Family medical history is certainly something that should never be ignored, but if you don’t seem to have any of the signs or symptoms of a heart attack is there really reason to worry?  Take a close look.

This is the angiogram of the person described above.  Although he didn’t “feel” like he could have a heart attack, he couldn’t help but listen to that voice in his head that said “what if something is going on?”.  Would you wait to find out?  Thankfully he did not.

“We changed his destiny,” Dr. Wayne Leimbach, Chief of Cardiology at Oklahoma Heart Institute clearly states reviewing the angiogram that saved this patient from suffering a heart attack.  What Dr. Leimbach discovered when this patient insisted on a stress test, thus resulting in a follow up angiogram, was a 90% blockage.  “This would have caused a heart attack,” says Dr. Leimbach.

This patient’s story is the same for 1 in 4 heart attacks that occur every year in patients without warning signs.  We often think heart attacks follow the “trademark” symptoms including chest pain, discomfort and numbness in the left arm.  However, heart attacks can strike seemingly out of nowhere if we are not aware of limited blood flow in the body.

By being proactive in his health and understanding his family’s medical history, this patient had a stress test, which is the only indication (without symptoms) that there is a limitation of blood flow to the heart, resulting from a blockage of some degree.  That indication leads to a CT scan, which is the only way to see the blockage and to what degree that blockage is limiting blood flow.  Conversely, a CT scan is 98% accurate in ruling out blockage if indicated by a stress test.

In this case, that blockage was significant enough to require a stent.  The procedure was performed immediately following in the Oklahoma Heart Institute cath lab.  In this follow up angiogram you can see how that artery is now open and allowing blood to flow unrestricted. 

With follow-up stress tests to monitor restenosis, along with medication and careful diet and exercise considerations, this patient will in essence insure against a heart attack in his future.  According to the findings of the 2011 Saturn trial, taking these preventative measures can reduce the risk of progression of blockages.   Additionally, by adding a daily aspirin, the risk of a heart attack is reduced by 25%.  The decision to have a stress test changed his family’s future medical history.

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