The danger of “silent” heart attacks

As many as half of all heart attacks go unrecognized — and their long-term consequences can be serious.

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Most people don't realize that they could have a heart attack without even knowing it. Although these are commonly referred to as "silent" heart attacks, a more accurate term may be "unrecognized" heart attack, says cardiologist Dr. David Morrow, director of the cardiac intensive care unit at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital.

"Some people do have symptoms, so in that sense, their heart attack is not silent. They just don't recognize the sensations as coming from their heart," he explains. The two most common problems people report are indigestion and muscle pain, when the real cause is actually reduced blood flow to the heart. People may also experience atypical symptoms, such as nausea or excessive sweating during a heart attack (see "Heart attack symptoms").

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