Rosie O'Donnell's Heart Attack Serves as Wake-Up Call to Women

Women present with different symptoms than men when suffering heart attacks, the No. 1 killer of women
By: 
Dave Fornell

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August 22, 2012

August 22, 2012 — Comedian Rosie O'Donnell’s heart attack last week is helping increase public education about how women’s myocardial infarction (MI) symptoms differ from men's. She posted a blog on Monday recounting her ordeal and called for women to be more vigilant in knowing the symptoms.

“My LAD [left anterior descending artery] was 99 percent blocked; they call this type of heart attack the widow maker. I am lucky to be here,” O’Donnell wrote in her blog posted Aug. 20. “Know the symptoms, ladies. Listen to the voice inside the one we all so easily ignore — call 911 — save yourself.”

O’Donnell, 50, suffered a heart attack Aug. 14, after helping an obese woman out of a car.

"A few hours later my body hurt and I had an ache in my chest,” O’Donnell wrote. “Both my arms were sore, everything felt bruised. I became nauseous, my skin was clammy, I was very, very hot.

After she threw up, she thought it might be a heart attack and Googled women’s heart attack symptoms, of which she had many. However, she dismissed the symptoms, but then thought maybe she should take a precaution and remembered seeing a TV commercial about chewing an aspirin during a heart attack.

“I took some Bayer aspirin, thank God. Saved by a TV commercial," she wrote.

However, instead of going to the hospital, she decided to go to sleep and see a doctor in the morning if she still felt bad. Her doctors found a 99 percent blockage in the LAD and she underwent percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) to insert a stent.

"Rosie O'Donnell's experience with her heart attack is one that is all too common among women. She didn't recognize her symptoms as those of a heart attack and she delayed calling 911,” said Lisa M. Tate, CEO of WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease.

She said data shows that only 1 in 5 women believe heart disease is their greatest health threat, and only 53 percent say they would call 911 if experiencing the symptoms of a heart attack.

“Although women may experience heart attack symptoms typical of men — crushing chest pain, pain in the left arm — they can experience a wide range of less recognized symptoms, including shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, unusual fatigue, and pain in the back, shoulders and jaw,” Tate explained.

Delay in recognition of symptoms and seeking emergency care can result in irreversible damage to the heart muscle or death. When a woman (or man) thinks they may be experiencing a heart attack they should take the following actions: 1) Call 911 within five minutes of the start of symptoms (do not drive yourself or let family or friends drive you to the hospital); 2) Chew and swallow one regular full-strength aspirin with a glass of water as soon as possible; 3) Once at the hospital, make it clear you are having symptoms of a heart attack.

“Rosie O'Donnell's courage and frankness in speaking out about her heart attack will surely save lives by making women more aware of heart attack symptoms and the need to seek immediate care," Tate said.

For more information: rosie.com/my-heart-attack, www.womenheart.org