The term "widow maker" refers to a specific type of heart attack that is known to have grave consequences. It is called this because those who suffer one often die, and the wives of affected men therefore often become widows. The condition is caused by a blockage in a blood vessel called the left anterior descending (LAD) artery, which normally supplies the muscle of the heart. Although patients who develop this condition can be treated, some develop heart failure or fatal heart arrhythmias despite these therapies.
In order for the heart to function properly, it needs to be supplied with sufficient amounts of fresh blood. A number of vessels, called the coronary arteries, provide the muscle of the heart with the energy and oxygen that it needs to survive. Different parts of the heart are supplied by different vessels; for example, the front wall of the heart is supplied by a blood vessel called the left anterior descending artery, and the bottom of the heart is supplied by the right coronary artery. If one of these blood vessels clogs up, a patient suffers from a heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction, because the heart is not getting enough blood and cannot work properly.
Heart attacks can be caused by blockages in any of the different arteries supplying the heart. Stopping the flow of the LAD artery results in a symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, sweating, fainting, nausea, and vomiting. Patients develop these symptoms because the heart is not getting enough oxygen, and cannot pump enough blood to the rest of the body. Blockage of this artery causes significant symptoms because it feeds blood to a chamber of the heart called the left ventricle, which is responsible for pumping the blood from the lungs and to the aorta, which distributes it to the rest of the body.
Many patients who experience a widow maker will have significant health problems as a result. Some patients develop acute heart failure and die because the rest of the body cannot be supplied with freshly oxygenated blood. Other patients develop heart arrhythmias, meaning that the heart does not pump in a coordinated fashion and is therefore ineffective. Although, in some cases, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can stop these arrhythmias, it is not always successful.
Treatment focuses on trying to restore the blood flow to the heart, and there are, generally, two different approaches towards achieving this. Patients can be given intravenous medications that break up blood clots. Alternatively, cardiologists can remove the clot by inserting a wire into the blood vessels supplying the muscle of the heart and open the clogged blood vessel back up.
When it comes to widow maker heart attacks, prevention of this often devastating condition is critical. Patients at risk are advised to eat low-fat diets, exercise regularly, and avoid smoking cigarettes. Those who are diagnosed with high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels should take medications to control these diseases. Diabetes mellitus is also considered a risk factor for this condition, and patients with this disease should work on controlling their blood glucose levels.