MadSci Network: Medicine

Re: Why is the left anterior descending artery called the widow's artery?

Date: Tue Feb 27 09:27:56 2001
Posted By: Joshua Chai, Medical student, Medical Sciences, University of Cambridge
Area of science: Medicine
ID: 983031469.Me

Very interesting! I haven’t formally heard this nickname (widow’s artery) 
being used to describe the left anterior descending (anterior 
interventricular) coronary artery. But if I am to make an intelligent 
guess the reasons are as follows:-

Nowadays one of our major killers of urban dwellers is coronary heart 
disease (CHD) with subsequent myocardial ischaemia, which eventually lead 
to complication such as myocardial infarction (M.I.). Among the causes of 
CHD is atherosclerosis (focal thickening of the intima) in the coronary 
artery complicated by thrombosis/embolism. Blockage leading to ischaemia 
most commonly occur in the artery you mentioned, left anterior descending 
coronary artery, implicated in about 50% of cases. And that if we 
considered the risk factors for atherosclerosis, male is more prone to 
develop atherosclerotic plaques and its consequences than females, 
especially pre-menopausal women (unless they are predisposed to diabetes 
mellitus, severe hypertension or familiar hypercholesterolaemia, etc.). As 
a result, it should not be surprised to see the reason for the 
name “widow’s artery” by linking the evidence above: i.e. this artery is 
simply more likely to kill a man, leaving behind a widow on her own! 
(please note that atherosclerosis and its complication usually develops in 
the 3rd-4th decade of one’s lifetime, so maybe men in their 30s-40s are 
likely to have got married? I don’t know:-)

Joshua Chai
Medical Student,
University of Cambridge, UK

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