Actor Kevin Smith suffered a "widowmaker" heart attack — a doctor explains what makes it more severe than other cardiac events

After suffering a “massive heart attack,” Kevin Smith is on the mend.

The actor, comedian, and director, best known for his movie Clerks, tweeted about his emergency trip to the hospital Sunday night.

Scheduled to perform two shows in Glendale, California for a stand-up special, Smith made the savvy decision to go to the hospital instead of sticking around for the second gig.

“If I hadn’t canceled show 2 to go to the hospital, I would’ve died tonight,” he tweeted. His doctor told him the heart attack was incredibly serious: a 100% blockage of the LAD or left anterior descending artery, a type of heart attack alarmingly known as a “widowmaker.”

Here’s what that means: The LAD artery is the biggest of the three arteries that bring blood to the heart. A blockage there due to plaque buildup is usually deadly. While lifestyle factors like smoking, diet, and exercise contribute to a person’s heart attack risk, genetics also play a role. Ultra-healthy personal trainer and Biggest Loser host Bob Harper famously suffered a widowmaker heart attack during a workout at age 51 and survived, he recently explained, only because two doctors happened to be at the gym.

While an LAD artery blockage builds up gradually over time, a widowmaker heart attack can come on quick. “A widowmaker heart attack occurs when that artery suddenly goes from 80% or 90% narrowed to 100% narrowed,” Richard Katz, MD, director of the George Washington University Heart and Vascular Institute told in a previous interview. “It happens very quickly, and suddenly you’re depriving a large chunk of that heart muscle [of] oxygen.”

With so little oxygen reaching the heart, a person can go into cardiac arrest, meaning the heart stops beating altogether. That leads to a loss of consciousness. “Sometimes this is transient and people wake back up,” Dr. Katz said. “But when the blockage occurs in the LAD, sadly this is when we see sudden cardiac death much more often.”

And don’t be fooled by the name: Women can have widowmaker heart attacks as well as other types of heart attacks, and the symptoms might be different from those that men experience.

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Recovery from a heart attack typically involves medications, changes in diet and exercise habits, and sometimes surgery, according to the American Heart Association. While we don’t yet know what Smith’s recovery will entail, he’s grateful to have survived something that’s often fatal. “For now,” he tweeted, “I’m still above ground!”

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