How does someone get a widowmaker heart attack?
It is difficult to differentiate between a regular heart attack and the widowmaker heart attack because the symptoms are similar.
A widowmaker heart attack occurs when the left ascending artery (LAD) that supplies blood to the front part of the heart (largest part) is clogged-up because of clots in the arterial wall. As a result, there is no blood flow to a major portion of the heart, which results in deprivation of oxygen. This causes the death of heart muscle in this area, medically termed myocardial infarction. Because a significant portion of the heart is affected, this can seriously affect the heart function and can be fatal.
Factors increasing the risk of widowmaker heart attack are:
- Tobacco smoking
- High blood pressure and cholesterol
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- Having relatives who had a heart attack
- Lack of physical activity
- Men older than 45 years and females older than 55 years are at high risk
- Family history of heart disease
- Consumption of unhealthy foods
Lifestyle modifications for high-risk patients can help to prevent heart attacks.
How do you know if you have a widowmaker heart attack or a regular heart attack?
It is difficult to differentiate between a regular heart attack and the widowmaker heart attack because the symptoms are similar. However, the most common symptoms are:
- Chest pain that feels like pressure, tightness or fullness in the center of the chest
- Upper body pain or discomfort that involves the arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach
- Shortness of breath
- Cold sweat
- Flu-like symptoms
How is a widowmaker heart attack treated?
Because the widowmaker damages a major portion of the heart, timely management is necessary to prevent fatalities. Restoring the blood flow within 90 minutes of the start of the heart attack is crucial to prevent any permanent damage. In the emergency room, patients might receive aspirin and nitroglycerine to prevent blood clotting and improve blood flow.
In the bypass surgery, a healthy blood vessel (artery graft) is taken from the leg, arm or chest and placed in the heart as a bypass around the blocked artery. During an angioplasty a catheter is passed through a small cut made on the leg. A tiny balloon attached to the catheter is blown up and pushed through the blockage. Sometimes this is followed by placement of a permanent tube (stent) to keep the blocked area open.
Complications of these surgeries include:
- Blood clots
- Memory loss
- Abnormal heart rhythms
- Kidney problem
- Heart attack
- Damage to coronary artery
Patients may be hospitalized for another five to seven days after the surgery. It requires three months to fully recover from the surgery.
What are the chances of surviving a widowmaker heart attack?
Removing the blockage prevents the complications of a widowmaker heart attack. The goal is to restore blood flow to the heart muscle immediately. The chances of survival have improved with advanced technologies.