There are no accidents in life. Rosie O’Donnell learned that the hard way, after getting a major wake-up call one August afternoon.
What started as a normal day soon turned into one that would change her mission in life. You see, O’Donnell suffered a heart attack. But like so many women, she missed the signs.
Hours after helping a woman who was struggling to get out of her car, O’Donnell felt something strange happening to her. Her body ached and she felt bruised, but she dismissed it as over-exertion.
The pain, however, persisted. Her skin started feeling clammy, her temperature rose and she threw up. She even went online to look up heart attack symptoms in women. “I had many of them,” remembers O’Donnell. “But really? I thought: Naaaa. (So) I took some Bayer aspirin.”
O’Donnell waited until the following day to see her doctor, as her symptoms hadn’t gone away. That’s because while an aspirin can help with symptoms, it won’t stop a heart attack – which is precisely what O’Donnell was experiencing. An EKG revealed that she had 99 percent artery blockage, a situation called “the widow maker.” Today, she considers herself one of the lucky ones.
“[Heart Disease] is the No.1 killer in women because they don’t recognize the symptoms,” explains Dr. Sanjay Gupta in a CNN interview about O’Donnell’s condition. “The symptoms then progress more, and they’re less likely to survive.”
Today, O’Donnell tells everyone that not calling 9-1-1 immediately was a big mistake. And Dr. Gupta agrees. “There’s really no question. Obviously, you don’t want to call for every single ache and pain,” he says. “But if you’re at risk for heart disease, or you have a family history, or you have new or sudden development of strange symptoms, you need to get to the hospital quickly.” Waiting, like O’Donnell did, can reduce the number of treatment options you have.
What to do if you find yourself in a situation like Rosie’s:
- Don’t take the “wait and see” approach. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Trust your gut.
- Call 9-1-1 immediately. Most women don’t, which is one reason why heart disease kills more women than men.
- If you want to take an aspirin like O’Donnell did, make sure your healthcare provider has OK’d it first. Just remember that an aspirin alone is not a substitute for immediate medical attention.
Take preventative steps for heart health
Did O’Donnell’s heart scare give you more reason to think about your own heart health? Good. Because the best time to Go Red is before you encounter a problem.
- Learn about your risks
- Get your blood pressure checked
- Make healthy changes to your diet
- Squeeze more physical activity into your life
Why it’s easy to miss the signs
The symptoms O’Donnell experienced are different than the unmistakable, crushing chest pains that men experience when having a heart attack. Her symptoms were more vague – nausea, clammy skin, lethargy – and could easily be mistaken for something else. Learn how to spot the signs of a heart attack in women and what you can do about it.