A Woman's Heart

January 01, 2013

Last summer, Rosie O’Donnell felt nauseated and clammy with sore arms and an aching chest. “I Googled women’s heart attack symptoms. I have many of them. But really? - I thought-naaaa,” the actress and talk show host blogged.

As it turned out, O’Donnell had a 99 percent blockage in her left anterior coronary artery. Today her story serves as a cautionary tale for all women. “Women need to realize that their symptoms aren’t necessarily going to be the same as a man’s,” says Heather Shenkman, M.D., FACC, an interventional cardiologist with Providence Saint Joseph and Providence Holy Cross Medical Centers.

And while chest pain is the most common symptom for both men and women, women are more likely to experience other, more subtle warning signs. According to the American Heart Association, women should watch for:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, discomfort or pain in the chest
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold sweats, nausea, lightheadedness

"Women should not be afraid to call 911. If you’re having a heart attack, heart muscle is being damaged and dying,” Dr. Shenkman says.

A triathlete who adopted a vegan diet eight years ago, Dr. Shenkman urges her patients to consider several options, including what O’Donnell reportedly has done: Adopt a plant-based diet. “Studies have shown that a plant-based diet can reverse the buildup of plaque in the arteries and help lower your risk for heart attack,” Dr. Shenkman says.