Medical Moment: Know the signs of the ‘Widowmaker’ heart attack

Published: Feb. 3, 2023 at 5:43 PM EST
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(WNDU) - Heart attacks have long been considered a problem facing older adults, but young people can have them, too!

Recent research finds of those who suffer a heart attack at a young age, one in five is 40 years old or younger, and that number is rising.

Dave Conway felt his energy level drop; he was tired more often and couldn’t bounce back like he used to.

“When I would talk to people about it, they’d just be like, ‘Hey, welcome to getting older!’” Conway recalled.

One day at work, he exerted himself and felt light-headed and nauseous. He thought it was heat exhaustion at first, but the symptoms lingered, and over time he developed heartburn and shortness of breath. He wasn’t getting better, and he was encouraged to see a doctor. After seeing his blood pressure, Conway was immediately sent to the emergency room, where he had an echocardiogram.

“Anything below 40% is considered heart failure,” Conway said. “I was at 10%.”

Conway said he had three strokes in the hospital; it was then that a 100% blockage in a major artery was discovered. He says his earlier symptoms were actually signs of a “Widowmaker” heart attack.

“My cardiologist said had I not come in when I did, I probably would have just gone to bed that night and never woken up,” Conway said.

Cardiologist Laxmi Mehta with Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center says it’s important for everyone, regardless of age, to know the symptoms, including:

  • Chest discomfort
  • Pain that radiates to the shoulder, back, neck, and jaw
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Indigestion
  • Intense fatigue

“If there is something acutely new in you and it doesn’t make sense, you want to seek immediate medical attention,” Dr. Mehta explained.

Five years later, Conway’s focused on a healthy lifestyle.

“I realized I was happy to be here today,” Conway said.

Health experts say it’s also important for young people to focus on heart health. That means exercise, healthy eating, no smoking, and cutting down on drinking.

It might not sound fun, but it’s worth it. You’ll live longer and better!