Unrecognized Heart Attacks: November 16, 2012

“Well, I’m 35 yours old and I thought my health is pretty good,” says Brion Darby.

So Darby wasn’t overly concerned when he started feeling under the weather.

“It was kind of weird because it happened for, like three days.  It got worse and worse, and I thought it was maybe congestion or something in my chest,” says Darby.

He went to the hospital on day three, that’s when Darby got the surprise of his life.

“When they did my blood test, they said I had a heart attack,” says Darby.

It’s not too surprising for doctors. For every one person who presents at a hospital with symptoms, two more slip under the radar. Darby’s cardiologist finds it more common in older patients.

“They have no idea it is coming from their heart. Most of the time it happens in men because they always feel like this is coming from their GI issues,” says Dr. Murali Muppala, cardiologist with Lee Memorial Health System.

Unrecognized heart attacks are often picked up later during an MRI. The heart scarring is visible on the images, showing the damage has been done.

While it’s important to be aware of symptoms, like chest pain, they may be absent.

“It happens in female patients and also people with diabetes who never have any symptoms,” says Dr. Muppala.

Studies show undetected heart attack patients have lower long-term survival rates than people who knew they had a heart attack. So the best course of action: be aware of your risk factors, and be prepared to act.

“If you have a family history of heart disease, if you have other risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes or chronic smoking, make sure you seek medical attention,” says Dr. Muppala.