Heart attack warning: Myocardial scars are evidence of a silent heart attack

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Heart attacks happen when the supply of blood to the heart is suddenly blocked, usually by a buildup of fat. Following this obstruction, it is common to feel pain that travels from your chest to your arms, jaw, neck, back and tummy. It is imperative to respond to the warning signs to minimise the damage inflicted on the heart muscle.

Hampering this effort is the prevalence of silent heart attacks, which, as the name suggests, do not present visible warning signs or lack the intensity of them.

A significant proportion of people that have a silent heart attack are left with myocardial scars, research suggests.

For example, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at almost 2,000 people ages 45 to 84 (half of whom were men) who were free of cardiovascular disease.

After 10 years, eight percent had myocardial scars, which are evidence of a heart attack.

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Most surprising was that 80 percent of these people were unaware of their condition.

Overall, the prevalence of myocardial scars was five times higher in men than in women.

What are myocardial scars?

“After a heart attack, the body’s repair system replaces damaged heart muscle with scar tissue,” explains the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

For reasons that aren’t well understood, some people develop much larger scars after a heart attack than others, says the NIH.

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“People with larger scars have a higher risk of other heart problems and death,” it adds.

How to respond to heart attack symptoms

If you recognise the symptoms of a heart attack, it’s essential to dial 999, advises the British Heart Foundation (BHF).

“Don’t worry if you’re not completely sure whether your symptoms are a heart attack, it’s really important that you seek medical attention regardless as quickly as possible,” explains the BHF.

Next, you should:

  • Sit down and rest
  • Take a 300mg aspirin if you have one within arm’s reach
  • Stay calm and wait for the paramedics.

How to prevent a heart attack

Making lifestyle changes is the most effective way to prevent having a heart attack (or having another heart attack).

Eating a healthy, balanced diet is one of the most important preventative measures and there are certain items to be avoided where possible.

“Continuing to eat high-fat foods will cause more fatty plaques to build up in your arteries,” warns the NHS.

This is because fatty foods contain an unhealthy type of cholesterol called LDL cholesterol.

Avoid foods containing high levels of saturated fat, as they increase levels of LDL cholesterol in your blood.

Foods high in saturated fat include pies, fried foods, sausages and fatty cuts of meat.

You should aim to follow a Mediterranean-style diet – this means eating more bread, fruit, vegetables and fish, and less meat.

According to the NHS, oily fish, such as herring, sardines and salmon, can form part of a Mediterranean-style diet, but there’s no need to eat this type of fish specifically to try to prevent another heart attack.

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