While all heart attacks are serious business in their own right, the so-called widowmaker heart attack accurately tells you how grim the prognosis is for people who suffer the infamous heart attack. But what makes the widowmaker so deadly?
It helps to know that heart attacks are caused by blockages in the arteries that restrict or stop the flow of blood through the heart, cutting off the blood’s oxygen supply. When the blockage reaches critical mass, a heart attack is triggered. The widowmaker is a blockage at a specific and important junction in the heart.
Blocking the left anterior descending artery, the widowmaker cuts off the flow of blood to the entire left side of the heart, according to Dr. Mustafa Ahmed, director of Structural Heart Disease
at Princeton-Baptist Hospital and an interventional cardiologist.
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The left side, the stronger of the two atria, pumps out oxygenated blood to the body; while the right side returns oxygen-depleted blood, according to the Society of Thoracic Surgeons
Deprived of oxygen-rich blood, the left side shuts down, leaving the heart scarred and irreparably damaged. If the blockage is not removed quickly enough, the widowmaker results in sudden death, Ahmed said.
Relaying a story of a patient who suffered a widowmaker heart attack, Dr. Michael Isaac, medical director of Cardiovascular Quality Outcomes at Medical City Hospital in Dallas, told CBS
, “There’s no good heart attack, [but that] one covers so much heart muscle, if it closes you’re in big trouble. Game over. That’s why they call it the widowmaker.”
Despite the moniker, women can suffer widowmaker heart attacks as well. In fact, the American Heart Association reported that heart disease
is the top killer of women, resulting in a third of all female fatalities.
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