Patients with high pain tolerance at risk for 'silent' heart attacks
According to recent research published in Journal of the American Heart Association, heart attacks don’t always have obvious symptoms, and many people -- especially those with more tolerance to pain -- fail to recognize the symptoms altogether. These “silent” heart attacks are caused by lack of oxygen, or ischemia to the heart muscle.
“It is unknown why some people experience heart attacks without symptoms,” Dr. Andrea Ohrn, study lead author and a Ph.D. fellow at the University of Tromsø in Norway, said. “One possible explanation for the absence of chest pain is high pain tolerance. To our knowledge, no previous study has examined the relationship between pain sensitivity and recognition of heart attacks.”
The study included nearly 5,000 adults and found that 8 percent of participants were classified as having an unrecognized heart attack, which 4.7 percent of participants recognized heart attacks. Those who experienced the “silent” heart attacks endured a cold pressor test significantly longer and were less likely to quit the test than those who recognized the pain associated with a heart attack. Although women had fewer heart attacks than men, the proportion of silent heart attacks in women was higher.
“Asking patients about their pain sensitivity might provide a clearer picture about their probability of presenting with heart specific symptoms in the case of a heart attack,” Ohrn said. “The high prevalence and poor prognosis associated with silent heart attack, makes this a hidden public health issue that constitutes a larger proportion of women’s heart disease.”