What Exactly Is a Widowmaker Heart Attack, Anyway?

We'll never let go, Jack. We'll never let go.

this is us jack died of widowmaker heart attack
NBC

Spoiler alert! Stop here if you haven't watched the "Super Bowl Sunday" episode of This Is Us and don't want to know what happened.

After two long years and a , This Is Us finally revealed how Jack Pearson died, on Sunday night's .

Turns out, after the slow-cooker blaze that shocked 15.6 million viewers, Jack survived. He got his family out of the house just in time and even went back for the dog and a few special mementos. He did require a trip to the hospital for smoke inhalation and burns, however.

And that's where Jack met his fate: As Rebecca made calls to family from the lobby payphone, Jack suffered a heart attack in his hospital room. And not just any heart attack—a widowmaker, as Rebecca later tells Jack's best friend, Miguel.

this is us jack and rebecca
NBC

“One of the complications of smoke inhalation is that it puts terrible stress on the lungs and the heart. Your husband went into cardiac arrest,” the TV doctor told Rebecca. “I’m afraid we lost him.”

What exactly qualifies as a "widowmaker heart attack"? When a major blockage in the left anterior descending (LAD) artery—one of three arteries that supply the heart with blood—causes cardiac arrest, that's called a widowmaker, according to .

Signs and symptoms

One woman whose husband suffered a widowmaker heart attack called the ordeal "startling" because "the symptoms were so mundane and easily overlooked," she told in Atlanta.

An LAD artery blockage may cause the following symptoms:

  • Arm pain
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Indigestion or nausea
  • Trouble breathing/shortness of breath

    The term "widowmaker" is a bit of a misnomer, as these types of heart attacks happen to women, too. In fact, it's common for women to exhibit a particular set of symptoms: shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, intense fatigue, or pain in the back or jaw, . (Rosie O'Donnell suffered one in 2012.)

    What are the chances of having one?

    In the U.S., heart disease is the number-one killer of both women and men. Roughly 735,000 Americans, or 0.22 percent of the population, suffer heart attacks each year, resulting in about 23.5 percent of all annual U.S. deaths.

    Drinking alcohol regularly could increases those chances. On This Is Us, Jack is a recovering alcoholic. Imbibing more than one to two drinks a day for men, and one drink per day for women, can increase the risk of high blood pressure, obesity, and stroke, which are all contributing risk factors, .

    The Biggest Loser trainer Bob Harper had a widowmaker while at the gym last February. Thankfully, there was a doctor onsite who performed CPR until an ambulance arrived.

    What are the chances of surviving one?

    The widowmaker's scary name comes from the fact that its victims have a very low survival rate. A person who goes into cardiac arrest outside of a hospital setting has a 6 percent chance of survival, according to a , and those chances are even slimmer with a widowmaker.

    How to protect yourself

    Nearly half of all Americans have some risk factors for heart disease—either high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or smoking—according to the . Other lifestyle factors that can put you at risk for a heart disease include poor diet and exercise, diabetes, obesity, and excessive alcohol intake.

    You can by eating healthily, limiting alcohol use, not smoking, and getting 150 minutes of moderate exercise (or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise) each week.

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