There’s No Such Thing as a ‘Mild’ Heart Attack

Boston Celtics President Dany Ainge, 60, suffered his second “mild” heart attack on May 1

This morning it was reported that Boston Celtics President Danny Ainge suffered a mild heart attack last night in Milwaukee and was treated and will return to Boston. Ainge had a similar “mild” heart attack in 2009. This comes just a few days following the news that R&B singer Peabo Bryson had a “mild” heart attack as well.

I’ve noticed reporting on heart attacks focuses on just two kinds — major and mild. Major usually means the victim didn’t survive or needed bypass surgery. Everything else seems to get the “mild” classification from the news media. I wonder if they do this because they don’t want to alarm people, or because they don’t feel the need to describe with any detail exactly what happened to the person? Either way it doesn’t help anyone, not the least of which the survivor, who may feel better that the doctors said he or she had a mild heart attack but it doesn’t change the fact that mild or not a heart attack of any kind is a signal that things are not okay with your cardiovascular system.

I think the term “mild” heart attack gives the survivor a false sense of security. Any heart attack is a major heart attack and needs to be treated as such. Popular culture plays a role in this disservice. I used to laugh at the Saturday Night Live skit where “da Bears” fans would have a heart attack and keep on eating as if it is a normal part of life.

I suspect this image isn’t that funny to Chris Farley’s family given he died at 33 from a combination of drugs and heart failure from atherosclerosis.

Peabo Bryson  is “stable” after he “suffered a mild heart attack” on Saturday morning. Yet he’s still in the hospital and is cancelling most of his scheduled May concerts. Doesn’t sound too mild to me.

What’s my point? Any heart attack is a serious medical condition that requires considerable medical attention and lifestyle changes. Myocardial infarction means you had a significant enough blockage in an artery to cause your heart to lower blood flow and perhaps even stop beating. Or it caused a clot to travel through your heart to block blood flow. Ain’t nothing mild about that.

Some suggest the amount of permanent damage to the heart helps to classify a heart attack as mild or major. But what amount of damage to the thing that keeps you alive should be considered mild? My heart is about 15 percent damaged. Did I have a mild heart attack? Hell no. I nearly died and ended up needing three stents.

I would argue that any damage is major. Which means news outlets or doctors trying to placate patients or family members by suggesting a heart attack is mild are minimizing the seriousness of the event. I suspect Danny Ainge, now having survived two heart attacks at just 60 years of age, isn’t going to take things lightly going forward. I suspect he’s going to change his diet, take new medications, increase exercise, get regular blood checks, reduce stress, and more. And that’s the right approach for anyone who has had a heart attack — mild, medium or major.