Last month, American talk show host Rosie O'Donnell suffered a heart attack.
She underwent heart surgery which involved removing a large blood clot lodged in her artery followed by a stent that was inserted to keep the vessel open.
But she couldn't have made it to a doctor if she did not take one tablet of aspirin as soon as she felt signs of a heart attack.
According to the World Health Organization, cardiovascular disease is the largest single cause of death among women, accounting for one-third of all cases of death worldwide.
Seventy-five percent of all heart attack victims die before reaching the hospital.
Symptoms one month before an attack
The most common symptom of an impending cardiac arrest is chest heaviness. It has been described by some as a vice-like grip on your heart or like an elephant sitting on your chest.
However, many women experience subtle signs up to a month before the full-blown attack. They appear as mild symptoms which are often ignored or misinterpreted as something other than a heart attack.
The warning signs you may be headed for a heart attack are:
- Stabbing pain in the back
- Pain on the jaw or difficulty opening the mouth
- Discomfort resembling heartburn in the upper belly area
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sudden shortness of breath even while doing simple tasks like talking
- Extreme fatigue as if one is a melting candle or a wilted plant
- Dizziness, lightheadedness or double vision
If you feel any of these symptoms and you have the risk factors for cardiovascular disease, then taking an 80-mg tablet of aspirin right away can save your life.
How to lower your risk
Many contributing factors slowly increase your risk for having a cardiovascular incident. The most common are high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, a positive family history of heart disease, excess weight and stress.
Except for a family history of heart disease, these contributing factors also tell you how to lower your risk for an attack: change your lifestyle, manage stress, maintain a healthy body weight through proper diet and exercise. Also, have a yearly check-up and obey your doctor.
Remember, avoiding the disease is better than getting help when one is already sick.
Dr. Diana Sarmiento is a mother of three, part-time doctor, and a full-time wife and mother. The topics closest to her heart are women’s health, parenting, and any new information that she can get her hands on. Read more on her personal blog, Filipina M.D.