Women and heart disease

We all know that Rosie O’Donnell is one tough cookie but last week we almost lost the Queen of Nice. In her own blog, O’Donnell wrote that she developed chest pain but didn’t call 911. The next day she went to a cardiologist who confirmed that she had an acute coronary event and was immediately sent to the hospital where a stent was placed in her left anterior descending (LAD) coronary artery because it was 99% blocked.

O’Donnell went on to write that “50% of women who have heart attacks never call 911 and 200,000 women die of heart attacks each year in the United States. By some miracle I was not one of them.” Blockage of the LAD is referred to as the “widow maker” because near complete occlusion of this artery may result in sudden death.

Most heart attacks are caused by a blood clot that blocks one of the coronary arteries. A hard substance called plaque can build up in the walls of your coronary arteries. This plaque is made up of cholesterol and other cells. A heart attack can occur as a result of plaque buildup. The coronary arteries bring blood and oxygen to the heart. If the blood flow is blocked, the heart is starved of oxygen and that area of the heart dies.

A heart attack is a medical emergency. If you experience chest pain, call 911 right away. Do not drive yourself to the hospital and do not wait it out like Rosie O’Donnell because your greatest risk of sudden death is in the early hours of a heart attack. Chest pain is the most common symptoms. Pain commonly radiates down your left jaw, shoulder or arm. Other symptoms include sweating, shortness of breath and symptoms suggestive of indigestion.

Risk factors for heart attacks include:

–          Men older than 45 years old and women older than 55.

–          Smoking increases the risk of clot formation and heart attacks.

–          Having diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol increase your chances of having a heart attack.

–          Having a first degree relative who suffered from a heart attack.

–          Other than smoking, two important modifiable risk factors to prevent you from having a heart attack are an inactive lifestyle and obesity. People who get regular aerobic exercise and maintain their weight decrease their risk of heart attacks.

1 in 4 women dies from heart disease. Coronary heart disease is the #1 killer of both men and women in the United States.

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