Heart conditions can be 'silent'
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:
* Coronary artery disease
* Coronary artery anomalies
* Alcohol and drug abuse
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
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.