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O'Donnell's heart attack: classic, for a woman

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By Maggie Fox, NBC News

Comedian Rosie O’ Donnell says on her blog she had a heart attack last week and didn’t know it. But the symptoms she describes were classic heart attack symptoms -- for a woman, that is.

Common wisdom -- reinforced in no small part by Hollywood -- envisions a man clutching his chest and falling to the ground. And for men, dropping dead often is the first sign of a heart attack. But things can be more subtle and confusing for a woman, just as O’ Donnell describes in free verse on her blog: "my body hurt, i had an ache in my chest, both my arms were sore, everything felt bruised."

She had recently helped an old woman who had fallen, and thought she had just strained a muscle.

“i became nauseous, my skin was clammy, i was very very hot, i threw up,” added the 50-year-old star.

The signs were just what the American Heart Association predicts. “Women can experience a heart attack without chest pressure,” Dr. Nieca Goldberg, a cardiologist at New York University and American Heart Association volunteer, says in a statement.

“Instead they may experience shortness of breath, pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen, dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, upper back pressure or extreme fatigue.”

Luckily, O’Donnell took an aspirin, a simple measure that can save lives by helping break down the blood clots that cause heart attacks.

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