Rosie O’Donnell’s heart attack is a wake-up call – at least, I hope it will be. When she suffered a 99% blockage in the top part of her coronary artery, what cardiologists call the “Widow Maker,” she was on the brink of having a massive heart attack that could have killed her.
Rosie told the world that she waited 24 hours before seeking help because she wasn’t sure her painful symptoms were actually coming from her heart. She did what millions of women do every single day – they make excuses for their pain. They push it aside. They tell themselves, “It’s probably nothing,” and they don’t want to make a big deal out of nothing. In Rosie’s case, it most certainly was not “nothing.” Thank goodness she sought help when she did. If this happened to you, what would you do? Would you save your own life? Or would you “wait and see”?
Women’s heart symptoms are not always like that Hollywood heart attack we see in the movies – a man clutches his chest and falls to the ground, and we all know what it means. Women’s symptoms are more subtle than that. They are more likely to have shortness of breath, jaw pain, back pain, arm pain, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, or even flu-like symptoms. Sometimes, they never have chest pain at all, even in the case of a massive heart attack. But women also have intuition, and that can make up for more obvious symptoms, if you listen to it.
When I ask my women patients who have lived with heart disease if they knew something was wrong with their hearts, they all said that deep inside, they knew, even if they didn’t want to admit they knew, even if they were too scared to say it out loud. If you pay attention to your symptoms rather than dismiss them, if you listen to that inner voice, if you trust your intuition and get help, then you greatly increase your chances of survival, should you ever have a heart attack. Even if it’s not your heart, it’s better to be wrong and alive.