What Women Can Learn From Rosie O’Donnell’s Heart Attack

The comedian thought her aches were muscle strains, until she searched women’s heart attack symptoms.

Rosie O'Donnell, heart attack, women's heart attack symptoms, cardiovascular disease, heart disease

Rosie O'Donnell wrote about her recent heart attack on her blog. Not ignoring symptoms probably saved her life. (Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Jeannine Stein, a California native, wrote about health for the Los Angeles Times. In her pursuit of a healthy lifestyle she has taken countless fitness classes, hiked in Nepal and got in a boxing ring.

Love her or hate her, you have to admire Rosie O’Donnell for having the chutzpah to be frank about suffering a heart attack a few days ago.

The comedian/talk show host recounted on her blog yesterday, in her signature free-verse style, the symptoms that led her to consult Google, then chomp a couple of aspirins before seeing a cardiologist: “my LAD (left anterior descending coronary artery) was 99% blocked/they call this type of heart attack/the Widow Maker/i am lucky to be here,” she wrote.

While most celebrities would no doubt bury this information like so much toxic waste, O’Donnell decided to broadcast it, hoping to warn more women of the fate that could befall them too: “know the symptoms ladies/listen to the voice inside/the one we all so easily ignore/CALL 911.”

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O’Donnell said she became concerned after helping a woman get out of her car in a parking lot. “A few hours later my body hurt,” she wrote. Thinking the ache in her chest and soreness in her arms was muscle strain, she didn’t do anything—until the symptoms persisted.

After feeling nauseous and throwing up, she Googled women’s heart attack symptoms. O’Donnell said she received a stent in the hospital after getting an EKG. According to her representative, she’s now resting at home.

“I am giving applause to Rosie all around,” Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, director of Women and Heart Disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told TakePart. “It’s about time someone stood up and said, ‘Look what happened to me.’ ”

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Steinbaum, author of Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum’s Heart Book and a spokesperson for the American Heart Assn.’s Go Red For Women, said women’s heart attack symptoms can be different from men’s. They’re not always the classic clutch-the-chest-and-turn-blue scenario we’re used to seeing in movies.

“Sometimes women can have shortness of breath or flu-like symptoms, which is not what we think of,” she said.

Add to that the fact that most women ignore symptoms altogether, not wanting to bother anyone or, god forbid, be mistaken about being seriously ill.

“You can gender stereotype in this case,” Steinbaum said. “We always put ourselves last, we don’t want to bother anyone and we don’t want to be wrong. The worst case scenario is that you’re wrong. Call 911. If you don’t, you can die.”

In waiting a day Rosie, she said, got lucky—other women may not be so fortunate.

Steinbaum also advises women to know their risk factors, such as having a family history of heart disease, plus being obese, having high blood pressure and being sedentary. These details should be shared with a physician, she said, along with seemingly inconsequential habits such as an occasional cigarette.

“Every woman needs to know her own risks, and they need to do something about them,” such as making lifestyle changes in diet, exercise and stress management.

So let’s be grateful for O’Donnell’s candor, and let’s make a pledge not to ignore symptoms when they happen. As Rosie said, “save urself.”

What changes do you need to make in your life for better cardiovascular health? Let us know in the comments.

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