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What Is a Widow Maker?

By Clara Kedrek
Updated Jan 23, 2024
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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.

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Discussion Comments
By anon1003193 — On May 18, 2020

Eleven years ago, at age 60, I finished playing basketball and had a bowl of soup for lunch. As I sat there, it felt just like I had swallowed an ice cube, the pain high on the left side of my chest.

Then I felt very tired. I went into the club manager’s office and said that I needed to lie down, and as I said that, I collapsed.

Luckily, everybody at the club knew CPR, and they worked on me until the squad arrived. I have a single stent.

I played ball for five more years before I hung it up for good.

Still doing well. There is hope.

By anon1002391 — On Nov 13, 2019

I am a 52 year old female, and thought I was in great health. I few pounds overweight, no high blood pressure and no high cholesterol. I started having severe left arm/shoulder pain which went into my chest and up to the tightening of my throat and couldn't breathe. Drove to the ER in the middle of the night a week later to get sent home with a "Anxiety" diagnosis. The attacks worsened to having 7-8 a day and the pain was terrible.

I was then brought to hospital and did a stress test on the treadmill, which I collapsed on. Found out I had a 95% blockage in my "widowmaker" vein. Doctor told me I was lucky, One more week and I probably would have had a stroke or a massive heart attack. It has surely changed my life to eating better and exercising.

By anon998070 — On Apr 06, 2017

In October 2012 I had a widow maker heart attack at work. I broke out in a cold sweat, jaw pain, both arms hurt and it felt like someone was punching me in the middle of my chest. I was 46 years old. Diabetic, overweight and smoked. I had a manager call the ambulance. They hooked me up to a heart machine and was rushed to the hospital. I was given morphine and got two stents. One was 85% and the other 99% blockage.

By anon998041 — On Apr 04, 2017

In February of 2004 I walked into the emergency room after cleaning 8 inches of snow off my car and driving 8 miles to the hospital. I flat lined on the table 5 minutes after I arrived. I had 100% blockage in LAD. Three shocks with the defibrillator and two stents later, I had very little damage. Now, 13 years later and 3 grandchildren and 3 Red Sox world series wins , I thank God every day!

By anon997399 — On Jan 02, 2017

My LAD is 90 percent blocked. However, I also have a "twin" LAD, an extremely rare condition. I wonder how long I will last. I'm near 76, female. I am making changes to my diet. I do not have shortness of breath or chest pain.

By anon997214 — On Nov 29, 2016

I experienced a widowmaker attack in 2014. I am a 52 year old male non smoker/drinker. I was in a coma four days after my wife found me unresponsive on couch. They inserted a stent to clear it, and I'm very lucky to be here.

By anon996086 — On Jul 07, 2016

Just home today reading up on The Widow Maker. My doctor referred to it by its nickname and I didn't realize the significance until now.

I'm an otherwise healthy 56 year old male, non smoker, 5' 9" and 190 lbs. I've got above average muscle mass from lifting weights for decades but stopped lifting about 6-7 years ago, hence the extra 15-20 lbs.

I began having chest pains in April and went through all the normal tests. Always on top of my health, I've been seeing a cardiologist for years just to achieve baseline readings and keep an eye on things. Well, the tests came back normal, no enzymes, though my BP was through the roof. I was put on BP meds and felt better and went home.

Fast forward a few months and the pains returned. I ignored them like a dummy to get through the July 4 weekend and then called my cardio to go ahead and do the cath. He got me on the table and found a 95 percent blockage in the LAD artery and inserted the stent. I seized on the table during the procedure and they defibrillated me to bring me back.

Sitting here, I'm just in the grips of realizing how close I came. Don't ignore the pains like I did. Never wait.

By anon994337 — On Feb 01, 2016

I just had a widow maker (and for post 12, it just emphasizes the seriousness of it) heart attack three days ago. I'm a 45 year old male, with no history of this other than my dad, no warning signs until two days before. Just thought it was an anxiety attack. Two days later, I was making breakfast for my wife and I and started sweating like I had just got out of the shower, my shoulder and elbow joints started to ache, then both hands started to tingle. Told my wife "this is different, get me to the hospital"!

Upon arrival, they said my EKG was fine but my blood work said otherwise. My enzymes (troponin) were nothing anyone had ever seen before in a walking talking person. Most they ever saw were 62, and mine were 162! I went into the ER at 11:30, and by 11:45 I was on the cath table getting a stent put in with 99.9 percent blockage. They said I would have been dead in an hour. Thankfully my wife hadn't left for work yet. Then about three hours later I went into v-tac and they had the crash cart in the room (which I didn't know until later). This happened several times and I felt nothing. They asked me if I felt the fluttering in my chest and I didn't. I was out in 2.5 days. I'm home now feeling OK, but drained. Just goes to show, someone is watching over me and it can happen at any time! Take any chest pain seriously!

By anon993894 — On Dec 27, 2015

I just had bypass surgery for the deterioration of my LDR at age 45. This was just one month ago. Heart attacks are not always caused by a blockage. Anybody who has heart disease in their family or has a history of high blood pressure should have everything checked out on a regular basis. I was going to my doctor once a year and he was surprised to hear about the heart attack. People need to be proactive with their health and watch out for these things.

By anon991895 — On Jul 27, 2015

Hoping to get out of ICU soon after a 100 percent blockage of my LAD. I was lucky paramedics got me here quickly, and that the hospital got me to the cath lab quickly. I've been pushing my luck a long time with diabetes, coronary artery disease and weight problems, but this is definitely a wakeup call.

By anon990355 — On Apr 17, 2015

It's the Left Anterior Descending Artery. No need to call it the "widowmaker," especially because there are so many women who have that type of attack. One, no two, things that need to be considered here: If you go through any of this, you should call the location of the blockage - type of infarct, by its real name, and physicians and other providers should do the same; adding a frightening term to a frightening situation and condition makes no sense at all.

By anon990036 — On Apr 02, 2015

Just had a stent placed for a 90 percent blockage of the widow maker artery. I had no chest pains but I did have spasms of the throat and a tightness of the chest. It just did not seem right. So I saw my primary and my EKG was all weird, then saw Cardiologist and he did an angioplasty and balloon, with stent placement. He said I only survived it because I knew something was wrong and had a medical background. But I believe I had an angel on my shoulder. We'll see how the next year goes.

By anon960740 — On Jul 12, 2014

The more I read on this, the scarier it is. I had the widow maker heart attack in June 2014. I'm a 53 year old male, good health, 5' 10", 175- 180. I'm an ex high school track star, scratch bowler. Non smoker, no drugs, rarely ever consume alcohol. No family history of heart disease.

I had just finished mowing my lawn when it struck. I had 95 percent blockage. I knew something was wrong because I was sweating like a pig, could not catch my breath, and when I went down to the ground, could not get back up. I called my neighbor on my cell which was in my pocket to come over because I thought I was having a heart attack, he was here in 5 seconds, he called 911 and they were here in like two minutes. The fire house is less than 1/2 mile away. They started working on me immediately and rushed me to the hospital 25 miles away. They already had the operating room prepped when I got there and took me directly in.

I had a double bypass which was successful, and because the medical services were so reactive and swift, I suffered no heart damage and expect a complete recovery in time. I feel blessed and had no ideal I was that close to death. I plan to do volunteer work at the hospital in the future to help other heart surgery patients that are recovering. Once I am well enough I plan to go to Michigan to see my granddaughter born in January whom I have not seen yet. Thank you God. --Gary S., Conyers, Georgia.

By anon959839 — On Jul 07, 2014

In February 2010, my brother-in-law had a heart attack and died at age 47. My wife, son and I drove cross country to get there as the snowstorm had grounded and delayed all air travel. After his funeral, we met up with some of my wife's family and learned that no male had lived past age 50 on their mother's side of the family.

Immediately when we got home, my wife underwent an electron beam tomography which found eleven blockages. She then had a stress test which found reduced blood flow to the front/bottom of her heart. Then, she had an angiogram and the doctors determined that all of the blockages were too many and too much for stents to be effective. She had a triple bypass and all three bypasses failed within four months. She went into heart failure and was admitted to a different hospital.

Fast forward four years, she has six stents, three of which are in the LADA and the first diagonal. She has another in the circumflex and then two in the RCA. This Wednesday, she is going in for another angiogram as the stress test last week did not show a good result and is pointing to problems in her LADA and diagonal.

If your family has heart disease, go and pay for an EBT. It's not usually covered by insurance, but it's the only sure-fire way without having an angiogram to know whether you have calcified plaque in your coronary arteries.

By anon956882 — On Jun 16, 2014

I just had a widowmaker heart attack with 100 percent blockage, and I was in a coma for three days. I am a 48 year old female. I had mildly high blood pressure, and slightly high cholesterol. I work out regularly and I am a little overweight -- 15-20 pounds. With my muscle tone, some people don't think I am overweight.

My husband found me, and could not wake me, and I was cold and blue. He called 911, and told my son to run downstairs to let the firemen in. They came in and shocked my heart, and got it beating again.

I also have been placed on the zoll defibrillator. am reading and reading, and looks like the survival rate is low, but also that after surviving this, you only average two to five more years. I have a 9 and 11 year old child, so I pray my life will be longer than predicted. I am glad to be alive, but I am very, very down from all of this.

By anon956476 — On Jun 13, 2014

I am 42 years old, and I had a widow maker heart attack while at the emergency room for an allergic reaction. I was rushed to a hospital that dealt with this. I was put directly on the cath table and had two stents put in. I was a smoker, high blood pressure, family history, and bad cholesterol. I had a guardian angel on my shoulder according to my doctor. I thank the good Lord every day that I was at the hospital already; the allergic reaction saved my life.

By anon953306 — On May 25, 2014

I am 46 years old, no history of high blood pressure, no diabetes, cholesterol fine. I was a smoker. I had a widowmaker heart attack with 100 percent blockage. I quit smoking.

By anon359294 — On Dec 16, 2013

Good luck to you Post 1. I have also had the widow maker with a whopping 99 percent blockage. I felt immediately better on the operating table when the stent was inserted. In total I've had three stents and just this past Friday I received another heart cath because of heart pain. It turned out I was blockage free and the other stents are doing well. -- Gary P.

By anon346585 — On Aug 29, 2013

Last Tuesday, I had a widowmaker. I am 54 years old. I knew something was wrong. I had a tight chest, sudden toothache, difficulty breathing, the cuticles on my fingers turned white, and I got to the hospital. I coded within three minutes of arrival.

Luckily, I was in a room full of cardio doctors and nurses. They pulled me back. I had 80 percent blockages. Since then I have had four angioplasties. I have always been active and in good shape. It was cigarettes that caused it. I am on the road to recovery now and thank God I am alive.

By anon345559 — On Aug 20, 2013

I'm recovering from a double bypass surgery. My widow maker artery was 95 percent blocked.

If you are having chest pains or any of those other symptoms mentioned, don't 'tough it out'. Go see a doctor.

By anon344897 — On Aug 13, 2013

I appreciate this article being posted very much. I am 49 years old and in July 2013, I suffered a massive "widow maker" heart attack with 100 percent blockage and had a 100 percent blood clot. The cardiologist told me if I hadn't gotten to the hospital when I did, I could have died in two hours. At this time I have EFF 35 percent and am wearing a Zoll Life Vest defibrillator. I am hoping for some good news at my next cardiologist visit. --Greg K., Deer Park, Texas

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