Widowmaker Heart Attack
What is a widowmaker heart attack?
A widowmaker heart attack is a type of heart attack in which you have a full blockage in your heart’s biggest artery. This artery, the left anterior descending (LAD) artery, sends oxygen-rich blood to your heart’s left ventricle. This lower chamber pumps oxygen-rich blood to your aorta, which sends it to your body.
Healthcare providers call a heart attack a “myocardial infarction,” which means you don’t have enough blood going to your heart muscle (myocardium). Your heart muscle can die without enough blood flow.
A heart attack is a medical emergency. Call 911 or your local emergency number if you think you’re having a heart attack.
How serious is a widowmaker heart attack?
A widowmaker heart attack is immediately life-threatening. This is because the LAD provides about 50% of your heart muscle’s blood supply.
Who does a widowmaker heart attack affect?
The name sounds like a widowmaker heart attack only affects men and people assigned male at birth (AMAB). However, women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB) can have this type of heart attack, too.
Heart attack risk increases when you:
- Are older than age 45 for men and people AMAB.
- Are older than age 50 for women and people AFAB.
- Have a family history of heart disease.
- Don’t have enough nutrition in your diet.
- Use tobacco products.
- Don’t exercise enough.
- Have certain other medical conditions, such as obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Symptoms and Causes
What are the symptoms of a widowmaker heart attack?
Widowmaker heart attack symptoms include:
- Chest pain.
- Shortness of breath.
- Upset stomach.
- Pain in other parts of your upper body (arms, shoulders, neck, jaw or back).
Call 911 or your local emergency number if you have these symptoms.
What causes a widowmaker heart attack?
Atherosclerosis, a buildup of cholesterol and other deposits in your LAD artery, causes a widowmaker heart attack. A blood clot can also block your LAD artery and cause a widowmaker heart attack.
Diagnosis and Tests
How is a widowmaker heart attack diagnosed?
A provider will use several tests to diagnose a widowmaker heart attack, such as:
- Electrocardiogram (EKG).
- Blood tests.
- Chest X-ray.
- Coronary angiogram.
- Cardiac computed tomography (CT).
- Heart MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).
- Nuclear heart scan.
Management and Treatment
How is a widowmaker heart attack treated?
A provider will use these widowmaker heart attack treatments:
- Oxygen mask.
- Medicines to treat pain, blood clots and/or abnormal heart rhythms.
- Coronary artery bypass surgery.
You may be in the hospital for two to four days after a widowmaker heart attack. Some people need to stay longer, especially if they have complications.
Complications/side effects of the treatment
Some drugs for a widowmaker heart attack can cause bleeding.
People who receive a stent to keep their LAD artery open need to take medicine to prevent blood clots.
A coronary artery bypass graft operation carries a risk of stroke, another heart attack or death.
How can I prevent a widowmaker heart attack?
You can reduce your risk of a widowmaker heart attack in many ways, such as:
- Eating foods that don’t have saturated fats.
- Limiting sugar intake.
- Managing high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
- Avoiding tobacco products.
- Exercising 150 minutes per week.
- Staying at a weight that’s healthy for you.
Outlook / Prognosis
What can I expect if I have a widowmaker heart attack?
You’ll need about eight weeks for widowmaker heart attack recovery. Some people can return to work in two weeks. Others need up to three months to recover. If your job is physically demanding, it may be helpful to change to a less demanding job.
Outlook for a widowmaker heart attack
Fifty percent of heart attack deaths happen in the first few hours after symptoms start. But many people who live several days after a heart attack can recover fully. However, 10% don’t make it through the first year after a heart attack.
How do I take care of myself?
If you’ve had a heart attack, you may need to make some changes in your life to prevent another one. You can:
- Attend cardiac rehab.
- Eat heart-healthy food.
- Manage your stress level.
- Stop using tobacco products.
- Take medicines your provider prescribes.
When should I see my healthcare provider?
Be sure to go to all of your scheduled appointments with your healthcare provider. They’ll want to see how you’re progressing in your recovery. Appointments are also a way to learn if you need a different dose of any of the medicines you’re taking.
When should I go to the ER?
Call 911 or your local emergency number right away if you’re having symptoms of another heart attack.
What questions should I ask my doctor?
Questions you may want to ask your provider include:
- How likely am I to have another heart attack?
- What’s the best treatment for my situation?
- Is there a support group for heart attack survivors?
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Calling for help right away is crucial if you think you’re having a heart attack. The faster you get help, the more heart muscle a provider may be able to save. Paramedics can start treating you while you’re on the way to the hospital, so call 911 instead of having a friend or relative drive you to the hospital.
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