Heart conditions can be ‘silent’

Heart conditions can be ‘silent’

Posted: Wednesday, January 5, 2011 8:01 pm

The Press 1/4

The image many people get when they think of heart conditions is a grown man cluthing his chest. But not all heart conditions are as obvious or pronounced as heart attack.

Ischemia is a term used to describe the restriction of oxygen-rich blood to an area of the body. Cardiac ischemia occurs when the blood cannot reach the heart.

Generally cardiac ischemia causes pain in the chest, known as angina. However, in some cases there is no warning pain and the condition is called silent ischemia.

Facts & Figures on Silent Ischemia 

Silent ischemia affects roughly 3 to 4 million Americans every year. Individuals who have had a previous heart attack are at higher risk for silent ischemia than others. But there are many other risk factors:

* Diabetes

* Coronary artery disease

* Hypertension

* Coronary artery anomalies

* Smoking

* Obesity

* Alcohol and drug abuse

* Cardiomyopathy

If ischemia lasts too long or is especially severe, it may cause a heart attack. It can also affect the natural rhythm of the heart and its pumping ability, which can cause fainting, and even sudden cardiac arrest.

Symptoms and 

Diagnosis of Silent Ischemia 

Silent ischemia has no symptoms. However, if a person has had previous episodes of chest pain, there’s a liklihood that he or she could also be experiencing silent ischemia and not know it. Doctors may use an exercise stress test  to determine silent ischemia. Also, a special monitor called a Holter monitor will record the heart rate and rhythm over the course of a day and determine if ischemia occurred.


The main ways to treat silent ischemia is to reduce certain behaviors that increase risk. This includes quitting smoking, avoiding alcohol and maintaining a healthy weight and diet.

For those who are diagnosed with silent ischemia, there are some treatment options available. Most of these involve improving blood flow to the heart, which often requires prescription medications. Oxygen also may be given to increase the oxygen content of the blood that is reaching the heart. Other people may take medicines that relax blood vessels, enabling more blood to flow. In most cases this is all that is needed to fix the situation. For those not responding to treatment, they may need a percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), such as balloon angioplasty, coronary artery bypass surgery, or a similar procedure. 


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