Cardiologists get asked a lot of questions by their inquisitive patients, including “What is the widow maker artery?” The left descending artery or LAD has earned a dubious distinction. The low survival rate when patients experience a heart attack there spawned the term “widow maker.”
To understand more about the LAD’s role in coronary circulation, it helps to know more about all three arteries that supply blood flow to the heart, says Amar Krishnaswamy, MD. He is an interventional cardiologist in the Cleveland Clinic’s department of cardiovascular medicine.
The LAD comes down the front of the heart, the circumflex coronary artery comes around the side of the heart, and the right coronary artery or RCA comes around the back of the heart. The LAD supplies blood to the front and the bottom of the heart’s left ventricle, and to the front of the septum.
“Each of these three arteries continues with its own branches,” explains Dr. Krishnaswamy. “The LAD and circumflex come off the left main trunk of the aorta while the RCA comes off ‘on its own’ from the aorta.”
The aorta is the main artery of the body. It supplies oxygenated blood to the circulatory system.
If you know about a family history of heart disease, you and your cardiologist have probably talked about making wise lifestyle changes. Those include stopping smoking, getting enough physical activity, and eating a healthy diet. Here at Cleveland Clinic, we recommend the Mediterranean diet, rich in fruits and vegetables, fish, whole grains and olive oil.
Maybe you’re even taking a medication for heart health, such as an aspirin or a statin, but are still having symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath. When you need more help, your cardiologist may want to investigate your heart problems with further diagnostics or tests. He or she might recommend an invasive imaging procedure such as a cardiac catheterization or an interventional procedure such as an angioplasty or a stent.
Be sure you seek care from a cardiologist and a facility that has plenty of experience with the treatments you may require.