The Silent Killer in Diabetes

Find out what are the three warning signs you should look out for.

Written by Dr. Mohd Azhar

“…some patients with diabetes may not experience any typical
symptoms before facing heart failure or sudden death.”

Most of us are aware of the typical symptoms of a heart attack – pressure in the chest, nausea, cold sweat and pain from the chest traveling to the shoulders, neck, arms or jaw. But did you know that a heart attack can show up differently in people with diabetes and those who do not? In patients with diabetes, due to the higher concentration of sugar in the blood, plaque builds up on the wall of the blood vessels. This causes the vessels to narrow, and restricts the flow of blood through them. Over time, the nerves that depend on these vessels for nutrients become damaged. When motor and sensory nerves are damaged, the symptoms of heart attack is masked. This is why some patients with diabetes may not experience any typical symptoms before facing heart failure or sudden death.

With warning signs so quiet and unusual, people with diabetes are less likely to receive medical help until it is too late.

If you have diabetes, here are 3 key symptoms that could indicate you are experiencing a ‘silent’ heart attack:

Shortness of breath

Because high blood sugar levels in a diabetic patient often leads to a nerve disorder that significantly reduces a diabetic patient’s ability to feel pain, the only symptom experienced might be the shortness of breath.If you experience shortness of breath during activities that used to be easily performed without any unusual sensations, please see your doctor immediately. The only way to identify a heart attack in the absence of typical symptoms would be to undergo a series of tests recommended by your doctor.

Indigestion or heartburn

Oftentimes, you may feel like you are having a bad case of food poisoning with cramps in both the stomach and the chest. Heartburn, also known as acid reflux, can feel like a burning in the chest just behind the breastbone. Sometimes, a ‘silent’ heart attack can begin with symptoms of heartburn but in time, get more intense with strong discomfort in the chest. Survivors of ‘silent’ heart attacks have often described the sensation of their chests being squeezed. If these symptoms persist, immediately seek help. Early treatment of any critical medical condition can mean the difference between life and death.

Extreme fatigue

A ‘silent’ heart attack can sometimes present itself as extreme fatigue, where the victim feels exceptionally tired and run down. This can often be mistaken as the symptom leading up to a bad case of the flu.

Photo by Lechon Kirb on Unsplash

If you suspect that something is not right, call for help and seek treatment right away. Any heart attack (whether ‘silent’ or not) causes significant damage to the heart because it cuts off the flow of blood to the heart muscle.

Restoring blood flow to the heart as early as possible is critical in preventing the heart from suffering more undue strain in the future. Without medical intervention, victims of ‘silent’ heart attacks are putting their already weakened hearts at risk for another heart attack, or worse, heart failure.

If you have diabetes, know that you are at two to three time’s higher risk of heart disease than others without. For this reason alone, it is of utmost importance that anyone with diabetes pay close attention to their heart health and learn to listen to the gentle warning signs of a ‘silent’ heart attack.