MRI Studies are Able to Pick Up Cardiac Tissue Damage from Silent Heart Attacks Better than Traditional EKGs

 A silent heart attack is an attack that occurs, but the person is unaware they are having a heart attack.  In a study from Iceland, scientists found that twice as many people have had a silent heart attack than a full-on heart attack.  This study was reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Andrew Arai, a cardiologist at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in Bethesda, Maryland and author, said that it is helpful when you know that someone has had a heart attack before, therefore, you can treat them more aggressively and be more aware of outliers.

During the study, scientists chose 670 people from Iceland to watch, however the patients were randomly selected and the median age was 76.  266 people were chosen because they had diabetes.  Their medical history showed that 91% had a previous heart attack, however, after testing the MRI revealed that 157 (72 with diabetes) had clear signs of cardiac tissue damage from a previous silent heart attack, whereas the EKG only picked up 46 cases (15 with diabetes).  Only some people were detected by both tests.

The participants in the study, on average, were not overweight and did not have dangerously high cholesterol levels.  Renu Virmani, a cardiac pathologist, was not surprised that many people have silent heart attacks, for example, those with diabetes often do not feel much pain.  “Their nervous system isn’t sensing as much as it should,” Arai said.

If more people knew they had a silent heart attack they would be more apt to pay attention to their risk factors and make a change.  The people who have silent heart attacks are less likely than those with diagnosed heart attacks to be taking aspirin to lower blood clotting or statins to lower their LDL cholesterol.  People who have had a silent heart attack are just as likely to have coronary calcium buildup, early signs of heart disease and are more apt to pass away within 6 subsequent years of monitoring, as patients with traditional documented heart attacks.

The study demonstrates the need for more MRI cardiology testing so that people can diminish further heart damage.  The study shows that people need to pay more attention to the risks of heart disease and not just smoking, diabetes, or high cholesterol; they need to pay attention to factors like family history.

Although this study shows that MRIs are more accurate than EKGs the National Institute of Health, is not advocating cardiac MRIs for healthy individuals or individuals who do not have any symptoms of heart disease or risks of heart disease.

For more information on this study, check out the article here.