Charge Up for Good Health

What You Can Learn From Rosie O’Donnell

Don’t do what she did if you think you might be having a heart attack.

Rosie O’Donnell dodged a big one. On August 20, the often controversial comic announced on her popular blog that she’d had a heart attack and she was lucky to be alive.

She’s right.

It wasn’t just that her left anterior descending coronary artery was 99 percent blocked. (That’s the major artery of the heart nicknamed “the widowmaker” because when it goes, it takes you with it.) It was that she thought she was having a heart attack but didn’t call 911.

She had some of the classic symptoms women experience -- an ache in her chest, a clammy feeling, nausea, vomiting -- not the stereotypical Hollywood heart attack in which a man (always a man) clutches his chest then keels over. Rosie had time to Google her symptoms, suspect she might be having a heart attack … and go into denial.

In blank verse, this is how she described what happened:

“maybe this is a heart attack

i googled womens heart attack symptoms

i had many of them

but really? – i thought – naaaa”

She did take an aspirin. Good move. Aspirin is a blood thinner that can break up a clot that can travel to the heart, blocking blood flow. When blood doesn’t get to the heart muscle, neither does the oxygen it carries. Deprived of oxygen, the muscle can die.

But the American Heart Association and other heart organizations say that the first thing you should do if you think you’re having a heart attack is call emergency services. (Read more here). Rosie is far from alone in failing to heed that essential advice.

The average person waits four hours before picking up the phone, and only 50 percent of women say they’d call 911 if they thought they were having a heart attack.

This is such an important issue that the Office of Women’s Health launched a campaign aimed just at women called “Make the Call, Don’t Miss a Beat” to encourage them to know the symptoms and make the call that could save their lives.

The symptoms:

· Chest pain or discomfort

· Unusual upper body discomfort

· Shortness of breath

· Breaking out in a cold sweat

· Unusual or unexplained fatigue

· Light-headedness or sudden dizziness

· Nausea (feeling sick to the stomach)

As a heart attack survivor, Rosie O’Donnell, is at high risk of having a second. In fact, during the first six years after a heart attack, 35 percent of women have another, compared to only 18 percent of men. Next time -- and I hope there isn’t one -- she’ll know what to do first.

What should you do? If you don’t have a 911 service in your area, keep the number of your local ambulance service handy. Program it into your cell. Keep it right by your home phone.

Yes, most women are used to doing plenty on their own. But to survive a heart attack, you need to ask for help.



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