What is a mild heart attack?
Difference between mild and normal heart attack
A mild heart occurs when the blood flow in your heart is temporarily blocked, while a normal or complete heart attack happens when the blood flow is interrupted permanently, being a medical emergency and requiring immediate intervention to prevent death.
Symptoms of a mild heart attack
The symptoms of a mild heart attack are similar to those suffering from angina:1
- Chest tightness or pain often radiates to the jaw, left shoulder, arm, and shoulder plate.
- Shortness of breath
- Sweating, dizziness
Mild heart attacks, also known as silent heart attacks, can present no symptomatology or very mild symptoms. These kinds of heart attacks are more common in older people and those suffering from diabetes.5
The causes and risk factors of suffering a mild heart attack are similar to those occurring with normal heart attacks:2
- Coronary Heart Disease. This is the leading cause of heart attacks, and it happens when the coronary arteries are clogged with cholesterol plaques. Sometimes, these plaques break down and can obstruct the blood supply in your heart, triggering a heart attack.
- Drug misuse. Stimulants such as cocaine, speed or methamphetamines narrow the arteries of your heart and could restrict the blood flow, triggering a heart attack.
- Lack of oxygen in the blood. Mainly caused by abnormal lung function or carbon monoxide poisoning.
- High-fat diet
- High cholesterol
- Being obese or overweight
- High blood pressure
The diagnosis of a mild heart attack is the same as normal heart attacks:3
- Electrocardiogram: This allows your doctor to read the electric response of your heart on paper. It is a painless procedure and is normally done within a few minutes.
- Blood test: A blood test might be ordered to check the so-called cardiac enzymes, which are proteins that generally show abnormal results when a heart attack occurs.
- X-ray: Generally performed to rule out other possible causes of symptomatology.
- Echocardiogram: Scan your heart to determine the degree of damage in your heart.
The treatment of mild heart attacks differs from a normal or complete heart attack in the degree of intervention. Mild heart attacks are normally treated with medication, while complete heart attacks require invasive techniques, such as catheterisation, stenting, or even heart bypass operation.
Generally speaking, there are three types of medication that you might need after suffering a mild heart attack.
- Aspirin. Prevents the formation of further clots in your bloodstream.
- Nitroglicerin or GTN. In the form of a tablet or spray that you put underneath your tongue, this medication dilates your blood vessels to help the blood flow into your heart.
- Anticoagulants. Medication that makes your blood thinner to dissolve clots.
Oxygen Therapy might be an option, especially if your oxygen level is below the normal limits.
Does a mild heart attack need hospitalisation?
A mild heart requires hospitalisation. It is not possible to determine if a heart attack is complete or mild until further investigations have been done, such as electrocardiogram, blood tests, etc. Even if you have been diagnosed with a mild heart attack, you should be checked up and monitored at the hospital.
There is no fixed recovery period after suffering a mild heart attack. Although it might be logical to think that it should be shorter than a complete heart attack, every person experiences recovery differently and should not rush to go back to their normal lifestyle. The recovery process has different stages:6
- Cardiac rehabilitation. This is a medically supervised program for people recovering from heart problems. It involves adopting heart-healthy lifestyle changes, including exercise, education and counselling, all to reduce the risk of suffering another heart attack.
- Returning to normal activities. You might be able to return to your normal activities within a few weeks if you have no symptoms, while others can start walking right away. Don’t rush your recovery; it is important to take safe steps rather than precipitate.
- Medication. Different kinds of drugs help your heart to reduce the risk of having another heart attack.
- Make healthy changes in your lifestyle, such as heart-healthy eating, reducing sedentarism and obesity, managing your stress, increasing physical activity and quitting smoking.
To sum up, a mild heart attack occurs when the blood flow in your heart gets interrupted or blocked temporarily. Although the symptoms are similar to those suffering from a complete heart attack, they are often milder and, at other times, do not have any symptomatology at all. The causes of mild heart attacks are coronary heart disease, drug misuse and reduced oxygen levels. The risk factors are common to other heart conditions, such as sedentarism, smoking and unhealthy diet. The diagnosis of a mild heart attack should be made in a hospital by performing ECG and blood tests to determine the severity of the heart attack. Treatment generally involves the use of drugs to break down and reduce the formation of clots in the bloodstream and to alleviate the obstructed blood flow in your heart. There is no fixed recovery time, where some people recover within a few days and others might take longer.
- Symptoms of a heart attack. nhs.uk [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2023 Nov 27]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/heart-attack/symptoms/.
- Causes of heart attack. nhs.uk [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2023 Nov 27]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/heart-attack/causes/.
- Diagnosing a heart attack. nhs.uk [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2023 Nov 27]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/heart-attack/diagnosis/.
- Heart Attack - Treatment | NHLBI, NIH [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2023 Nov 27]. Available from: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/heart-attack/treatment.
- Heart Attack - Symptoms | NHLBI, NIH [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2023 Nov 27]. Available from: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/heart-attack/symptoms.
- Heart Attack - Recovery | NHLBI, NIH [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2023 Nov 27]. Available from: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/heart-attack/recovery.