Fans of This Is Us have known for a while that the details surrounding Jack Pearson's death were coming, and while it was teased that the house fire was the cause, his demise actually came from a heart attack, or more specifically, a widowmaker heart attack. If the term gave you pause during the show's Super Bowl episode, you're not alone.
POPSUGAR spoke with Dr. Robert Segal, MD, FAAC, founder of Manhattan Cardiology, and cofounder and CEO of LabFinder.com, about this very real and dangerous condition. "A widowmaker heart attack occurs when the most vital artery in front of the heart, the left anterior descending artery, is blocked," Dr. Segal explains. "Blockage to this area means that the entire front wall of the heart is being deprived of blood and oxygen." In Jack's case, this was due to a massive amount of smoke inhalation from the fire. Don't be fooled by the name though, as Dr. Segal cautions that "both men and women can have widowmaker heart attacks."
When it comes to symptoms, Dr. Segal urges people to be vigilant and keep an eye out for things aside from just tightness in the chest. "One may experience shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, diaphoresis, jaw pain, or general fatigue," he continues. "And more often than not, these symptoms can be misdiagnosed as something as small as the flu." He emphasizes that women are more likely to experience some of the more atypical symptoms like nausea and vomiting, while men tend to exhibit more traditional symptoms like chest pain.
If you want to know if you're at risk for a widowmaker heart attack, Dr. Segal suggests that a "Coronary Calcium Score is a great tool that checks out the amount of calcium deposits in your heart. It can raise a red flag if one is potentially leading to something as fatal as a widowmaker in advance." And if you're thinking about prevention, you're on the right track. "Stay away from saturated fats such as butter, fatty meat, and full fat dairy products, exercise at least 30 minutes, three times a week, stay away cigarettes, and get regular heart screenings," Dr. Segal says, while adding that you should always be familiar with your family's health history. "If your father suffered from a heart attack at 55 years of age or younger, or mother at 65 years of age or younger, you are more at risk for having the same complications. The key is to be aware of your inherited risk and take initiative to create healthy lifestyle choices to avoid the same path."