If there is one thing Rosie O’Donnell is known for, it’s not being afraid to speak her mind, usually to get a laugh. But this time her message about her own heart attack is dead serious, and she will certainly save hundreds of women’s lives, if not more.

As a heart disease survivor, a registered nurse, and an active volunteer with WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, I hear stories similar to Rosie’s every day, about women who don’t recognize their heart attack symptoms and delay calling 911.

The most recent data shows that only one in five women believe heart disease is their greatest health threat, and 46 percent, nearly half, say they would do something other than call 911 if they were experiencing the symptoms of a heart attack.

Although women may experience heart attack symptoms typical of men (crushing chest pain, pain in the left arm), they can experience a wide range of less-recognized symptoms including shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, unusual fatigue, and pain in the back, shoulders, and jaw.

WomenHeart urges any woman (or man) who experiences these symptoms to 1) call 911 within five minutes of the start of symptoms (do not drive yourself, and it’s better to take the ambulance than to let family or friends drive you to the hospital); 2) chew and swallow one regular full-strength aspirin with a glass of water as soon as possible; and 3) once at the hospital, speak up and make it clear you are having symptoms of a heart attack.

Rosie has said she was lucky, and thankfully she was. Too often for others, delay in recognition of symptoms and in seeking emergency care results in irreversible damage to the heart muscle, or death. This is no laughing matter, and Rosie has done a great service to women everywhere by sounding an alarm and raising awareness.


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