Widowmaker heart attack that struck Kevin Smith can hit fast

Blockage of the LAD artery often is deadly and more common among men

A massive heart attack called a “widowmaker” that struck filmmaker and actor Kevin Smith can happen quickly and fatally. Taking steps to protect your heart while young, as well as knowing your critical numbers, can be the key to surviving such a devastating blockage.

“This type of heart attack refers to a blockage in a very specific area of the heart,” said Rodney M. Miguel, M.D., cardiologist with Norton Heart & Vascular Institute. “Historically, the survival rate is low and it is more common in men, coining it as a widowmaker because it leaves wives without their husbands.”

A widowmaker is a blockage in the left anterior descending (LAD) artery — the largest of three arteries that supply blood to the heart. It typically becomes blocked very quickly and deprives the heart muscle of oxygen-rich blood. This sets off a chain of events that often leads to sudden cardiac arrest.

Smith tweeted that his physician told him he had a 100 percent blockage and that he would have died if he didn’t cancel a performance and seek medical treatment.

Regardless of the type of heart attack, symptoms are similar and can include:

  • Jaw pain
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain in the left arm or shoulder
  • Upper abdominal pain or a feeling of indigestion
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Anxiety

“If someone is demonstrating signs of a heart attack, fast action and getting to the nearest emergency department is crucial,” Dr. Miguel said. “Diagnostic cardiac catheterization and a treatment plan can be started while the patient is in route to the hospital by ambulance.”

Even with medical advancements, the widowmaker heart attack is still deadly. Taking steps to be heart healthy at an early age can help prevent a life-ending or life-threatening heart event. Know your numbers, such as blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol, and have an established relationship with a primary care provider.

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