Widow maker is an alternate name for the proximal left anterior descending (LAD) coronary artery of the heart.
This term is used because if the artery gets abruptly and completely occluded it will cause a massive heart attack that will likely lead to a sudden death. The blockage that kills is made up of platelets streaming to the site of a ruptured cholesterol plaque. Even a small amount of plaque in this area can (for a variety of poorly understood reasons) rupture and cause death; bypassing chronic blockages or trying to open them up with angioplasty does not prevent heart attack but it can restore blood flow in case of a sudden blockage or heart attack. An example of the devastating results of a complete occlusion of the LAD artery was the sudden death of former NBC News Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert.
From the minute a widow maker hits, survival time ranges from minutes to several hours. Rapidly progressing symptoms should signal the need for immediate attention. Symptoms of initial onset may include nausea, shortness of breath, pain in the head, jaw, arms or chest, numbness in fingers, often of a novel but imprecise sensation which builds with irregular heart beat. Early symptoms may be mistaken for food poisoning, flu or general malaise until they intensify. A widow maker cannot kill instantly but induces cardiac arrest which may do so within 10 to 20 minutes of no circulation. A victim with no pulse or breath is still alive, living off oxygen stored in the blood and may be able to be rescued if treatment is begun promptly within this window.
- Lewis, Kathryn (1 December 2009). Multiple Lead ECGs: A Practical Analysis of Arrhythmias. Cengage Learning. p. 10. ISBN 9781435441248. Retrieved 6 November 2014.
The LAD is frequently implicated in sudden cardiac death, predominantly in adult males. Clinicians often refer to the LAD as the widow maker because obstruction here predisposes to a high incidence of sudden death.
- Topol, Eric J.; Califf, Robert M. (2007). Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. p. 283. ISBN 9780781770125. Retrieved 6 November 2014.
The most worrisome type is the proximal left anterior descending (LAD) MI, often referred to as the widow-maker infarction, which carries a high mortality and is attributed to an occlusion of the LAD before or at the first septal perforator.
- Morgan, David (June 13, 2008). "TV newsman Tim Russert dies of heart attack". Reuters. Archived from the original on June 24, 2008. Retrieved June 13, 2008.
- Kearl, Mary (June 2009). "Surviving a Widow-Maker Heart Attack". AOL Health. Retrieved June 2009.
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