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This Month In Health
  • Attacked Without Warning
    Also known as a chronic total obstruction (CTO), widow maker heart attacks occur when one of the key arteries that supply blood to the heart becomes mostly or completely blocked. A 100-percent blockage almost always means certain death. This is why widow maker heart attacks are so feared. Read >>
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Health and Fitness News

Attacked Without Warning

What you need to know about widowmaker heart attacks.

One minute you seem perfectly healthy and the next you’re being rushed to the emergency room with heart attack symptoms. Without immediate treatment, chances are slim you’ll survive.

Widowmaker heart attacks are one of the most dangerous types of heart attack.
Despite the name, they don’t just happen to men. They strike women as well.

Also known as a chronic total obstruction (CTO), widowmaker heart attacks occur when one of the key arteries that supply blood to the heart becomes mostly or completely blocked. This causes the heart to suddenly stop receiving blood, which results in a heart attack.

A heart without blood means a heart without oxygen, and anytime there is no oxygen, the cells of the heart begin to die. A 100-percent blockage almost always means certain death. This is why widowmaker heart attacks are so feared.

Keep reading to learn more about this type of heart attack.

Chest Pain & More

The symptoms of a widowmaker heart attack are the same as other heart attacks. Chest pain, pressure, fullness, or tightness is the most common symptom. You may also feel discomfort in your arms, neck, jaw, stomach, or back. Some people feel faint, short of breath, or nauseated. Women, especially, may only experience feelings of extreme fatigue.

Blame Cholesterol

Atherosclerosis is the most common cause of a widowmaker. This condition develops when the arteries become narrowed and hardened by the buildup of plaque that forms from cholesterol. As plaque builds up in the body, it forms blood clots that may break loose to lodge in an artery, cutting off blood supply to the heart and ultimately causing a heart attack.

The Role of Lifestyle and Genetics

Both your lifestyle and your genetics influence your risk for heart attack. If a close relative had a heart attack, you’re at a greater risk for one yourself. As you age, your risk also increases, especially if you’re of European, Native American, or African-American descent.

However, you can’t just blame mom and dad for putting you in heart attack’s path. Your everyday choices affect your risk for heart attack just as much.

Smoking, being overweight, high blood pressure, high LDL (bad) cholesterol, low HDL (good) cholesterol, diabetes, an unhealthy diet, and a lack of exercise all increase your chances of suffering a widowmaker heart attack. Additionally, dealing with physical and emotional stress, as well as inhaling smoke or pollution can trigger a heart attack.

Always an Emergency Situation

Call 911 with any of the symptoms of a heart attack. While you’ll be on the brink of death with a widowmaker heart attack, your chances of survival drastically increase by receiving treatments as soon as possible.

Once you reach the hospital, the goal of treatment is to remove the blockage and restore blood flow to your heart. To do this, doctors will place a stent in your blocked artery through a procedure called angioplasty. During angioplasty, a catheter (thin tube) with a small balloon at the end is threaded through an incision in your leg or groin and led up toward your heart. When the catheter reaches the blocked artery, the balloon inflates to open the blocked artery.

Stents (tiny mesh tubes made of stainless steel) are then placed in the artery to prop it open in order to prevent the artery from becoming blocked again. If more than three arteries are blocked, you may require more invasive heart surgery.

Survival Is Possible

By taking steps now to take care of your heart, you can reduce your risk of heart disease, but also increase your chances of survival if a heart attack does strike. Eat a heart-healthy diet, get 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week, stop smoking, get enough sleep, and maintain a healthy body weight. With these steps, you decrease your likelihood of a widowmaker and boost your chance to survive one.