High Pain Tolerance Linked to Silent Heart Attack

Casual man hammering his finger by accident at home in the living room

Not all heart attacks come with warning signs. Those that don’t—silent heart attacks—carry a poorer prognosis because patients often don’t seek medical care in a timely manner. Results from a new study from Norway indicate that people with higher pain tolerance are more likely to experience such silent heart attacks.

The researchers studied almost 5,000 people who underwent both a brief test of pain tolerance through exposure to ice-cold water and an electrocardiogram (ECG) to look for signs of damage from a previous heart attack. Participants’ medical records were also reviewed to see if they had ever been diagnosed with a heart attack, either symptomatic or silent.

More of the participants had experienced a silent heart attack than a symptomatic one: 8% versus 4.7%. On average, those diagnosed with a silent heart attack endured the cold-exposure test for significantly longer than people whose heart attacks had symptoms. This association was stronger in women than in men. Such a reduced sensitivity to pain may help explain the lack of symptoms associated with silent heart attack, wrote the study authors.

  • Read the full article in the Journal of the American Heart Association
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