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What can we learn from Rosie O’Donnell’s heart attack? Don’t google it.

Photo of Rosie O'DonnellYesterday, Rosie O’Donnell wrote on her blog:

maybe this is a heart attack
i googled womens heart attack symptoms
i had many of them
but really? – i thought – naaaa

 i took some bayer aspirin

(Note – this is a snippet of a much larger entry)

Luckily for her, she later went to the hospital only to discover that she had suffered a heart attack and had a 99% blockage. While it may seem inconceivable to most that Rosie first googled her heart attack symptoms, most women do not realize that heart problems affect women differently then they do men. While most heart attacks in movies typify localized chest pain along with an immediate and swift failure, women’s heart attacks often simply feel like pressure or indigestion.

Far too often the subtle symptoms are easily dismissed by both patients and doctors. As one study in the Journal of the American Medical Association has concluded, “women who have heart attacks are less likely than men to get proper treatment, even when they have the same symptoms, and more likely to die in the hospital 1.”

If you still haven’t grasped the gravity of the situation, consider this: Heart disease is the number 1 killer of women. Let me repeat it. Heart disease is the single largest killer among women. Lest you scoff, let these sobering statistics sink in:

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death of American women, killing more than a third of them 2.
  • More than 200,000 women die each year from heart attacks- five times as many women as breast cancer 2.
  • 35.3% of deaths in American women over the age of 20, or more than 432,000, are caused by cardiovascular disease each year 2.

Why are women more likely to suffer from heart disease? The unfortunate truth is that only 27% of participants in all heart-related research studies are women 2. Additionally, much like Rosie O’Donnell, women simply do not take heart attack symptoms seriously. Some, as Rosie did, just think that it is a temporary issue of overexertion. More frequently, however, women simply pass it off as indigestion, the flu, or anxiety.

In order to protect yourself and the women you love, you must be aware of the following symptoms (as taken from WebMD 3):

  • Shortness of breath (57.9%)
  • Weakness (54.8%)
  • Unusual fatigue (42.9%)

Women also had these symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Lower chest discomfort
  • Upper abdominal pressure or discomfort that may feel like indigestion
  • Back pain

If you experience any of these symptoms, do not be shy about calling 911. As WebMD states, if you begin to experience heart failure, the EMTs can begin treatment immediately. It also helps to ensure that the hospital staff will take you seriously. “When you come into the emergency room with the [cardiac] monitor hooked up, you’re really taken seriously. You look the part (WebMD 3).”

So, let us assume you’re idly reading this article instead of googling for heart attack symptoms while you’re actually having a heart attack. Heart disease can strike at any age, so it is vital to reduce your risk. Start TODAY. Here are some simple tips that can help:

  • Quit smoking. Did you know that just one year after you quit, you’ll cut your risk of coronary heart disease by 50 percent 4?
  • Start an exercise program. Just walking 30 minutes a day can lower your risk for heart attack and stroke 4.
  • Know your numbers. Ask your doctor for regular cholesterol and blood pressure screening, but more importantly, be sure you understand the numbers.
  • Watch your diet. There are many tips out there on how eat in a heart healthy manner, so start utilizing those resources!

Although the concept of heart disease for women might seem bleak, I encourage you to have hope. WebMD suggests that you can begin reversing existing heart disease with as little as one month 5.

In addition to the sources cited in this article, here are some additional resources you should check out:

Go Red for Women (http://www.goredforwomen.org):
Put fourth by the American Heart Association, the Go Red campaign is specifically targeted toward women’s heart health. Be sure to check out the numbers for your specific age, as well as the ways you can reduce your risk (http://www.goredforwomen.org/ReduceYourRisk/index.aspx).

American Heart Association (http://www.heart.org)
You cannot talk about heart disease without mentioning the American Heart Association. The AHA raises money for heart disease research and educates America about risks and how to reduce them. Specifically, you should check out their article for recognizing heart attack symptoms in women.

Mayo Clinic (http://www.mayoclinic.com)
The Mayo Clinic has a plethora of information about heart disease, but specifically check out these two resources for reducing your risk; General heart disease risk prevention tips and Heart healthy diet tips.

WebMD (http://www.webmd.com)
A leading source for online medical information, the article about women’s heart attacks really drives home the importance of not downplaying your symptoms to medical professionals.


[1] http://jezebel.com/5887175/when-it-comes-to-being-treated-for-heart-attacks-women-have-it-bad

[2] http://www.womenheart.org/resources/cvdfactsheet.cfm

[3] http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/features/her-guide-to-a-heart-attack

[4] http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/WarningSignsofaHeartAttack/Heart-Attack-Symptoms-in-Women_UCM_436448_Article.jsp

[5] http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/features/can-you-reverse-heart-disease

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About Tina

A transplant from the snow and mountains of Upstate NY (why, yes, there IS an entire state above NYC!), Tina moved to Chicago in 2005. Since then, she’s taken full advantage of Chicago’s sports scene, participating in rugby, volleyball, and hockey – just to name a few. Her first love, however, is soccer. She’s proud to have participated in both the 2006 and 2010 Gay Games as well as the 2009 Out Games.

In addition to sports, Tina enjoys traveling (she tries to cross the atlantic at least once a year). Tina is a ‘Jackie of all trades’, so prepare for the unexpected!

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