So-called "silent" heart attacks, where victims may think they're having some other kind of pain, turn out to be fairly common, according to a recent study at Duke.
The results are going into the Public Library of Science medical journal, PLoS Medicine.
My dad's first heart attack was of this type. I was with him. He thought it was an ulcer. He drove to a store for a quart of milk and downed it in the car. He found out about the heart attack months later, during a routine check-up.
This was common. One of my favorite lines from the first season of "Mad Men" is where agency head Roger Sterling (as played by John Slattery, from AMCTV) lies in a hospital bed, amazed at his heart attack. "I thought it would be the ulcer that got me. I did what they told me. I ate the butter and drank the cream."
It's funny because it's true.
At Duke, Han Kim hooked up 185 patients with ongoing coronary disease but no history of heart attacks to a Delayed Enhancement Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance (DE-CMR) device and found a third had already had heart attacks.
Why the discrepency? My dad's first heart attack created what's called a Q-wave on a standard EKG. The DE-CMR unit found heart damage from heart attacks which did not create a Q-wave on an EKG.
Those who have had such attacks have big trouble. Kim found them 17 times more likely to die from heart disease. Trouble is, what do you do with that knowledge?
That will be the subject of his next grant request to the National Institutes of Health, which funded this study.
I'll be watching for that with the excitement normally reserved for a good TV show.