What is a “Widowmaker?”

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What is a “Widowmaker?”


In general, heart attacks are scary, and although they come in varying degrees of severity, no one ever wants to hear that they or a loved one have suffered one. One of the most sinister types of heart attacks, by name and by nature, is the famed “widowmaker.” But what is a widowmaker? And why is it so much more deadly than other kinds of heart attacks?

heart attackTo understand this process, first we need to review what causes a normal heart attack. Most adults have some degree of plaque buildup in their coronary arteries, which are the arteries that surround your heart and supply blood to it. During a heart attack, one of these pockets of plaque inside the coronary arteries ruptures, blocking or partially blocking the normal path of blood flow. Not only does this prevent the flow of blood, but the area of heart muscle that was receiving that blood and oxygen begins to die without it.

widowmakerWhat makes a “widowmaker” more deadly than other types of heart attacks is its location and the degree of blockage. During a heart attack of this kind, a blockage forms at the entrance of what is called the left anterior descending (LAD) artery. This location is critical because the blood vessel supplies blood to a large section of the heart including the main wall on the front side of the heart. If this blood vessel is critically or completely occluded, this places a large part of the heart muscle at risk by stopping all blood supply to the front wall of the heart. A second but similar type of “widowmaker” can also occur further up in the path, blocking the left main artery, which feeds both the LAD artery and the left circumflex artery, which is an artery that supplies blood to the side wall of the heart on the left and sometimes the bottom part of the heart as well. This type of blockage is even more severe in nature, since now blood supply is blocked to essentially the entire left side of the heart.

The good news is that while “widowmakers” are considered very serious, they are rare and can potentially be treated if you are able to reach care in time. It is critical to reach emergency care as quickly as possible when having a heart attack—the longer it takes you to get to the hospital, the more heart muscle dies and the chances of long-term damage or death increases.

The quickest way to access emergency medical care is by ambulance, so if you are having a heart attack or think you’re having a heart attack, don’t drive yourself—call 911.

For more information about heart disease, heart attack care at Our Lady of the Lake or to determine your personal risk for heart disease, visit www.ololrmc.com/knowheartdisease.

About Dr. Cannizzaro

Leon A. Cannizzaro III, MD earned his medical degree from Louisiana State University in New Orleans. He then completed a residency in Internal Medicine at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC and a fellowship in Cardiovascular Disease at Texas Heart Institute/St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital in Houston, Texas.

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