3 Surprising 'Mini Heart Attack' Symptoms Most People Miss

Woman experiencing signs of a mini heart attack

In movies and on TV, heart attacks are portrayed as dramatic, chest-clenching events. While sometimes, they do look this way in real life, it’s possible to have a heart attack without even realizing it. 

While more mild heart attacks are often missed, cardiologists say they are detrimental to health and seeking medical care immediately is still important. Because of this, it’s important to know their symptoms and signs. Keep reading for everything you need to know about “mini heart attacks,” including how they impact health, how to know if one is happening and how they are treated. 

Related: This Is the Early Heart Attack Symptom That's Missed Most Often, According to Cardiologists

What Are 'Mini Heart Attacks'?

Dr. Laxmi Mehta, MD, a cardiologist and Clinical Professor of Internal Medicine at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, explains that the technical term for a “mini heart attack” is silent myocardial infarction. Sometimes, they’re also called silent heart attacks.

Dr. Mehta explains that “mini heart attacks” can be just as deadly as regular heart attacks. She says that the difference between them is that “mini heart attacks” have minimal symptoms or even no symptoms at all. “‘Mini heart attacks’ are more common than you might think too. Of the estimated 805,000 heart attacks each year in the U.S., a projected 170,000 of them are silent heart attacks, according to statistics from the American Heart Association,” Dr. Mehta says.

Related: 7 Surprising Signs of Heart Issues In Women That You Should Never Ignore

Cardiologist Dr. Robert Segal, MD, the founder of Manhattan Cardiology and co-founder of LabFinder, says that when someone is experiencing a “mini heart attack,” their heart is not getting enough blood for a period of time. “The heart might not be getting enough oxygen-rich blood, and the heart muscle can get weak and not pump as well,” he explains.

Both doctors say that “mini heart attacks” need to be taken seriously because the heart not getting enough blood can be life-threatening and can also increase the risk of experiencing a major heart attack in the future.

What Are the Symptoms of a 'Mini Heart Attack'?

Since “mini heart attacks” do not have any dramatic symptoms, you may wonder how to know if and when one occurs. Both cardiologists say there are symptoms to be aware of, though they are more mild than the symptoms of a major heart attack.

“Some of the signs [of a ‘mini heart attack’] are chest pain, loss of breath, sweating or feeling sick,” Dr. Segal says. There are also more surprising signs that both doctors say people often miss, which are listed below:

3 Surprising Sings of a 'Mini Heart Attack,' According to Cardiologists

1. Discomfort in parts of the body other than the chest

Dr. Segal explains that pain or discomfort in areas such as the jaw, neck, back or arms is a sign of a “mini heart attack” that many people miss. “The pain might not always feel like chest pain from a heart attack,” he says.

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2. Indigestion

Both cardiologists say that a “mini heart attack” is often mistaken for indigestion. You may feel a heaviness in your chest that can feel similar to heartburn. Especially if the pain lasts longer than 15 minutes, it could be the start of a heart attack.

3. Prolonged fatigue

According to both doctors, unexplained fatigue could also be a sign of a “mini heart attack,” especially if it’s excessive and prolonged.

Dr. Mehta says that anytime you are experiencing something unusual—and especially if you are experiencing any of the symptoms described above—it’s important to see a healthcare provider. “It’s important to know your body and listen to your body when something feels different or ‘off.’ Don’t be afraid to make an appointment with your doctor and tell them you want to work on managing your cardiovascular risk. If you think you are having a heart attack, or are not sure if you are, call 911,” she says.

She adds that silent heart attacks may increase the risk of heart failure and stroke, so it’s important to seek immediate medical care if you believe you may have had a silent heart attack.

“[If you think you’re having a ‘mini heart attack’ you should first stop what you're doing and lie down or sit down. After that, you should either call 911 or have someone close do it for you,” Dr. Segal says, adding to Dr. Mehta’s advice.

In terms of how a “mini heart attack” is treated, Dr. Mehta says that, typically, a doctor will do an imaging test such as an electrocardiogram or cardiac MRI to confirm that what happened was, in fact, a heart attack. “After that, your physician will determine the next steps, including a possible heart catheterization,” she says.

“Mini heart attacks” may not be as sensational as regular heart attacks, but they still need to be taken seriously. Now that you know the signs, you’ll know how to recognize one if it ever happens. If there is ever a time when you aren’t sure if you are having a “mini heart attack” or not, seek medical care immediately. After all, it’s better safe than sorry.

Next up, here is more information on what a heart attack feels like.