Milo Ventimiglia Holds a Human Heart for the First Time (1:26)
One of the most lethal types of heart attacks, a “widowmaker” occurs when a blockage develops in the left anterior descending artery (LAD) of the heart. It is estimated that widowmakers are four times more deadly than other heart attacks. When the LAD is obstructed, blood flow stops in the left side of the heart and this can cause cardiac arrest, where the heart stops beating.
The Risk Factors of a Widowmaker
There are several factors that may put you at a higher risk of developing heart disease and ultimately, a widowmaker heart attack. Some factors are conditions you may not be able to control. For example, individuals over 55 years of age are at a higher risk. Other risks are your body shape, gender, a family history of heart disease, or if you’ve had a heart attack within the last five years.
In some cases, environmental factors can increase the risk of and trigger a heart attack. For example, inhaling the byproducts of combustion in a fire, or smoke inhalation, can cause respiratory distress, inflammation, and starve the body of oxygen (asphyxiation). This would compound the heart’s ability to pump blood and possibly lead to a blood clot and obstruction.
The good news is that there are risks factors that you can improve upon to reduce your chances of developing heart disease. These factors include belly fat, an unhealthy diet, a sedentary lifestyle, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, smoking, and stress.
Contrary to popular belief, women at any age can develop heart disease, which may lead to a heart attack like a widowmaker, if left untreated.
The Symptoms of a Widowmaker
Heart attack symptoms may not be as pronounced as you may expect and sometimes, the warning signs are subtle. Call 911, chew an aspirin, and see a physician if you experience any or a combination of symptoms such as:
- Dizziness and/or lightheadedness
- Extreme or unusual fatigue
- Heart palpitations
- Radiating body pain or pressure, particularly in the chest, jaw, neck, or shoulder region
- Nausea and sweating
- Shortness of breath during normal everyday activities
- Vomiting and indigestion
Seek medical care if an antacid doesn’t soothe your indigestion symptoms immediately, if your pain lasts for more than one minute or is linked to exertion, if you can’t do regular household chores or daily activities without taking a break, if closing your eyes doesn’t help when symptoms arise, and if you can’t walk and talk at the same time without an issue.
If someone near you falls unconscious and suffers a heart attack, you should tap them to see if they respond. If they do not respond, you should call 911 and if you know how to, you can start CPR and compressions.
The Treatment for Widowmakers
In addition to CPR and the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED), surgery is also used to treat cardiac arrest. For a widowmaker, a surgeon would take a long wire and thread it through a patient’s wrist or groin. A stent on the wire is inserted into the artery, gets expanded, and crushes the plaque causing the artery blockage. This process would allow blood to flow through the artery again.
How to Prevent a Widowmaker
If you are not sure if you have the risk factors for heart disease, talk to your health care provider or physician about your lifestyle and learn what your heart numbers are. If you have risk factors, take proactive steps to lower your risk. There are many ways to prevent a heart attack, including adopting a healthier diet, lowering your cholesterol intake, increasing regular exercise, and losing weight.