According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 300,000 women* die of heart disease each year. That’s 10 times more than those who die of breast cancer and yet heart disease is not something most are not vigilant about.
So when Rosie O’Donnell, spoke publicly about suffering a heart attack recently, she described a reaction that is all too common and shared by many suffering from cardiac symptoms: disbelief.
Rosie isn’t alone in dismissing the signs of an impending heart problem. Fortunately for her, she was worried enough to pop an aspirin (a potentially life-saving move) and when she saw a cardiologist the next day, she found out she’d survived what doctors call the “widowmaker,” a 99 percent blockage of the left descending artery that feeds the heart. We’re very fortunate Rosie is still with us and her story made me want to reach out to my own patients and make sure they know how to protect their hearts and what to look for if the worst should happen.
The cardiac symptoms women experience are often more subtle than in men. They are less likely to experience the classic pain often described as “an elephant sitting on the chest” and are more likely to feel as if they have the flu. Other symptoms such as chest pressure (not necessarily pain), aching arms, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and shortness of breath can all be attributed to other things. So even when a woman is concerned about her heart, as Rosie was when she took a precautionary aspirin, she may feel as if her symptoms are not severe enough to fit the usual description of a heart attack.
Many women are not sure if these symptoms are serious and are worried about making an unnecessary fuss. That reticence could be costing them their lives.
So hopefully Rosie’s cautionary tale will remind women to get help straight away if they experience any of the symptoms outlined above. The signs of an impending heart attack come on suddenly and it’s hard to believe it’s really happening but if, like Rosie, you are worried enough to take an aspirin, then at some level you know something is very wrong and you should listen to your intuition and call 911.
Get well soon Rosie …. and thanks for sharing your story which will undoubtedly help other women get help before it’s too late.
*Language used in the study referenced.