What is a ‘widow-maker’ heart attack? Signs and symptoms to know.

paramedic wearing gloves holding defibrillator and wearing gloves helping patient with heart attack, widow maker heart attack

What exactly is a “widow-maker” heart attack? Signs and symptoms of myocardial infarction (Getty).

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Check with a qualified medical professional before engaging in physical activity or making any changes to your diet, medication, or lifestyle.

Brad Ross, a former city of Toronto official, just survived a “widow-making” heart attack — and he’s warning others not to “snoop around and find out” before it’s too late.

Ross, who served as the City of Toronto’s Chief Communications Officer until January 2023, shared a health update Twitter on Monday, detailing his myocardial infarction – a heart attack commonly referred to as a “widow maker.”

In a three-part thread, the former executive director of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) described how “decisive action and excellent care” saved his life – “no widow to this day.”

“I was home 48 hours later,” he wrote. “A stent, a bunch of drugs and a few more weeks of rest” and a “full recovery is very likely.”

Ross, who worked for the City of Toronto and the Toronto Transit Commission from 2000 to 2023, warned his Twitter followers to “check your blood pressure, cholesterol, family history, and as hard as it is, find a way to quit smoking. “

“And if you ever feel those telltale symptoms of a heart attack, call 911. Don’t go running around trying to find out,” he cautioned.

A “widow maker” is a massive heart attack that occurs when the left anterior descending artery (LAD) is completely blocked or has a critical blockage. In 2018, “Clerks” director Kevin Smith went viral for sharing his “widow-maker” experience, which led to a lifestyle change and a 105-pound weight loss.

What Is A Widowmaker’s Heart Attack — And Why Is It So Deadly?

Like other tissues in the body, the heart muscle needs oxygenated blood to function. Coronary arteries run along the outside of the heart and have small branches that supply the heart muscle with blood.

The LAD artery is the left anterior descending artery, which supplies blood to the front of the left side of the heart. Of all the branches that supply blood to the heart muscle, the LAD is usually considered the most important.

“When it comes to coronary disease and the arteries, it’s location, location, location,” said Dr. Saul Isserow, director of the Vancouver General Hospital Center for Cardiovascular Health and the director of cardiology services at UBC Hospital, in a 2018 interview. “The LAD provides a tremendous amount of blood to the heart muscle.”

“If someone says, ‘I had a heart attack 10 years ago,’ they’re one of the lucky ones.”Dr. Saul Isserow

“People [who have heart attacks] often have no prior warning signs or symptoms,” he added. “If someone says, ‘I had a heart attack 10 years ago,’ they’re one of the lucky ones.”

That’s because about 50 percent of first heart attacks are fatal.

While a widow-maker’s heart attack is particularly dangerous, the title is a misnomer; it is just as likely a “widower-maker”.

“When the term ‘widow maker’ is used, it perpetuates the idea that cardiovascular disease is mostly a male disease, which is not the case,” Isserow said. “In fact, cardiovascular disease is the epitome of an equal opportunity disease.

“It is often fatal and can affect people in their prime,” he adds. “You are not protected because you are young.”

While many people don’t experience symptoms prior to a heart attack, Kevin Smith did. He said on social media that he felt nauseous, his chest felt heavy and he started sweating profusely.

Signs and symptoms of a heart attack to watch out for

Other signs of an LAD or other forms of heart attack are the same. They may include shortness of breath, dizziness or light-headedness, tiredness, heartburn, abdominal pain and pressure, tightness, aching or a feeling of pressure or aching in the chest or arms that may spread to the neck, jaw or back.

Some heart attacks come on out of the blue, while some people have symptoms hours, days, or even weeks beforehand. The first sign may be angina — recurrent chest pain caused by a temporary decrease in blood flow to the heart — which is brought on by exercise and relieved by rest.

When it comes to survival rates, it’s vital to know the warning signs.

“Over the years, I’ve seen too many tragedies because people didn’t seek medical help,” said Dr. Beth Abramson, spokesperson for the Heart & Stroke Foundation, had a heart attack in 2018. She woke up with a heavy chest, sweating and short of breath, that she opened the front door in case the ambulance came and then went back to sleep . We have excellent health care in Canada, but we need access to that care.”

Nine in 10 Canadians have at least one risk factor for heart disease or stroke.

Abramson also noted that nine in ten Canadians have at least one risk factor for heart disease or stroke. Those risk factors include smoking high blood pressure, high cholesterol, lack of exercise, obesity and diabetes.

Up to 80 percent of premature heart disease and stroke can be prevented by eating a healthy diet, being physically active, limiting alcohol consumption and not smoking.

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