All about the widowmaker

April 08, 2021 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Hearts

Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the U.S. but one particular form of heart attack – the widowmaker – can be more serious than others.

A widowmaker heart attack, also known as a massive heart attack, refers to a cardiac event brought on by blockage in the left anterior descending artery (or LAD), which supplies a significant amount of the blood flow to the heart muscle. The name itself leaves little doubt of the seriousness of this type of sudden heart attack.

You may have heard of widowmakers from a friend or family member or on a TV show. Soap actress Susan Lucci narrowly avoided a widowmaker heart attack in 2018 and has shared her story through the American Heart Association (AHA) to raise awareness for heart disease.

And while Lucci was fortunate to avoid one, widowmakers are often, as the name implies, fatal. According to a TIME Magazine article, the AHA reports that only about 12 percent of people who suffer this type of heart attack away from a hospital survive. The statistics increase to a 25 percent survival rate for those who happen to be in the hospital at the time of the heart attack.

Your genetics and other health factors, such as obesity, cholesterol and blood pressure levels can put you at higher risk for heart disease. Smokers also have a higher risk.

The same common symptoms of a heart attack, such as arm and chest pain, lightheadedness and shortness of breath, can signal a widowmaker. Other symptoms may include fatigue, nausea and sweating.

Lucci told the AHA she experienced symptoms in the days prior to her hospitalization. The day she was hospitalized, Lucci was out shopping for a gift for a friend when she felt a tightening in her chest that she likened to an elephant pressing on her chest.

To help minimize your risk for heart disease, experts recommend you adopt a healthy diet, exercise regularly and, if you smoke, get help to quit smoking. If you have a family history of heart disease, be sure to talk to your physician about your risks and any changes you can make to help minimize those risks.

Seconds count. If you experience symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 immediately. Learn what happens when you delay treatment for heart attack symptoms.

Don’t avoid getting critical care when you need it. Call 911 if the situation is life-threatening. Otherwise, head to the ER. Learn how we’re keeping you safe as we treat your emergencies.

Your heart is in good hands when you choose us for cardiovascular care. Learn more about our high-quality heart care.

Know your risk for heart disease. Take a free, 5-minute test that could save your life.

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