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Heart Disease Health Center

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Rosie O'Donnell's Heart Attack: Know Your Symptoms

Taking Aspirin a Good Step, but She Should Have Called 911, Expert Says

Is it likely she had been ignoring symptoms for a while?

A large percentage of women have a set of symptoms up to a month before. Some women have cold flushes or break out in a sweat, a clammy sweat. Shortness of breath is a common symptom. Some women have stabbing pain in their back. So it's important to pay attention.

The classic Hollywood heart attack -- the elephant sitting on your chest, clutching your chest, chest pain -- can happen in a woman, but other symptoms can occur in women more often, such as shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, overwhelming fatigue, or pain in the back or jaw.

Is it common for women to brush off symptoms like Rosie says she did?

I have heard this many times from women, that they wait, or they were too busy with the family or the children. They ignore their symptoms or didn't think much of it. They didn't think it could be a heart attack. I don't think it's uncommon.

I had one woman who took an hour-long bath [after symptoms set in].

What factor or factors likely triggered Rosie's heart attack?

Without knowing her history, it is hard to say which one factor or combination of factors. Five traditional risk factors all play approximately an equal role -- high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar or diabetes, smoking, and family history of early heart disease, less than 55 for a man or less than 65 for a woman.

What about excess weight and stress?

Excess weight can contribute to heart risk factors such as blood pressure and diabetes, while stress can lead to increased chemicals and hormones in the blood stream, which raise blood pressure and heart rate.

Managing stress and maintaining a healthy body weight through diet and exercise are important at all ages.

To prevent heart disease, women should exercise 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate intensity or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) of vigorous intensity a week.

What should women in Rosie's age range be doing about their heart health?

For women entering their 50s, this is an important warning to have their heart risk factors evaluated. It's not only the average age of menopause, which of itself can be an important risk factor for heart disease.

It's important to have a full evaluation. Know your blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, weight, and be more aware of it.

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