Rosie O’Donnell heart attack raises women and heart disease awareness


Talk show host and actress Rosie O’Donnell helped raise awareness of women’s heart disease risk yesterday by posting on her blog news of her recent heart attack:

“maybe this is a heart attack … i googled womens heart attack symptoms … i had many of them … but really? – i thought – naaaa”

It turned out she had a blockage that could have been fatal. Her story is a cautionary tale, as O’Donnell admits she did not follow a couple of suggestions she found on an internet search. If you suspect you are having a heart attack, you should:


1. Call 911

2. Chew an aspirin

3. Elevate your feet

4. Wait for help to arrive. Do not drive.

According to O’Donnell, while she did take an aspirin, she did not call 911 and instead went to her doctor the next day. She posted:

“i did not call 911 … 50% of women having heart attacks never call 911 … 200,000 women die of heart attacks … every year in the US”

It’s true. Heart disease is the leading killer of women in the United States and it is estimated that almost 1 in 2 women will eventually die of heart disease or stroke. Heart disease is mostly preventable, so understanding these serious health threats can make a life-saving difference.

According to Jennifer Lawton, MD, cardiac surgeon at the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Heart & Vascular Center, “Women are more likely to have atypical symptoms of a heart attack than men. Those could include something like heartburn or burning in the upper abdomen, fatigue, difficulty breathing, even nausea. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who don’t have any symptoms before their first heart attack.”

Typical heart attack symptoms in men may include crushing chest pain, tightness, or discomfort; pain may radiate to the arms, back, jaw, and neck. But women often experience only shortness of breath, lightheadedness or dizziness, or vague pain somewhere in the upper abdomen, arm, or neck. It is believed that women may have different heart attack symptoms because different coronary arteries (the arteries in the heart which when blocked, cause a heart attack) are blocked. In women, blockage may occur in smaller coronary arteries as opposed to the main arteries, where blockage often begins in men.

She also says women need to know the risk factors they can control:

  • Smoking
  • Physical inactivity
  • Obesity, overweight
  • Stress
  • High blood pressure
  • Cholesterol levels
  • Diabetes

Overall, O’Donnell summed it up best by posting:

“know the symptoms ladies … listen to the voice inside … the one we all so easily ignore … CALL 911.”

For more about women and heart disease, visit our website here or watch this video:


Not Too Late To Sign Up For This Weekend’s UNDY 5000.


It’s not too late to sign up for the annual UNDY 5000 this weekend in Forest Park. It’s a 5K that raises dollars and awareness for colon cancer, one of the leading cancer killers that is also thought to be the most preventable.

To get out that message, we had a couple of interviews this morning on FOX2. Anchor John Pertzborn went above and beyond by getting a colonoscopy and he talked about his experience with Siteman Cancer Center surgeon Steven Hunt, MD. Watch here:

One of the interesting things about the UNDY 5000 is that participants are encouraged to run in their boxers. To talk about that, John interviewed Barnes-Jewish spokesperson Jason Merrill with the help of a couple male models. Really. Watch here:

Again, it’s not too late to sign up. The event is:

Saturday, March 31st
9 a.m.
Upper Muny Parking Lot

For more info or to register, click here.

Colon Cancer Awareness Month Brings Annual UNDY 5000 to St. Louis


A group of Marines annually participate shirtless in the annual UNDY 5000, raising money for colon cancer research

Colon cancer is considered by many physicians to be a preventable cancer. Unfortunately, it’s the fourth most common cancer in the United States.

The reason many experts point to is lack of awareness that screening colonoscopy saves lives.

“The good news about colon cancer is that if caught early, it can be completely cured,” says James Fleshman, MD, chief of colorectal surgery at the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine as well as Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital. “Regular colonoscopies provide the opportunity to detect colon cancer at its earliest, most treatable stages.”

To help raise awareness during Colon Cancer Awareness Month in March, Dr. Fleshman and the Siteman Cancer Center are sponsors of the annual Colon Cancer Alliance “UNDY 5000,” Saturday, March 31 at Forest Park. The five kilometer run/walk is designed to raise awareness and funds for colon cancer in an unusual way. While not required, participants are encouraged to wear their favorite boxer shorts.

Or, as you can see in the picture above, you can go shirtless in 30 degree weather in March. Bottom line, the event is a lot of fun. 

“March is a special opportunity to inform patients, family and friends about what they can do to protect their health against this very preventable disease,” says Dr. Fleshman. “While there are many screenings that can signal colon cancer, a colonoscopy is considered the gold standard because it provides a clear picture of the entire colon. Screening can reduce a patient’s risk by 80% or more.”

The American Cancer Society recommends that every person age 50 and greater have a colonoscopy – a screening test for colon cancer – at least every 10 years.

“A colonoscopy may be inconvenient, but the evidence of its benefits is clear,” says Dr. Fleshman. “I tell people who are afraid of colonoscopies – this can save your life.”

To register or to learn more about the Undy 5000, visit .

31 Days of Health Tips #7 & #8 – Power Down & Limber Up


There is a lot of push and pull associated with life – it’s like a daily tug of war. The push can come from outside sources, such as deadlines at work, or people, like family obligations. These are things that we can’t really control, but we can always control how we react to them and try to plan for them.

Now, the pull – well, that can be tricky. The “pull” come from those things we feel a need for. One of the biggest needs these days is instant communication. How many of you, when you open your eyes in the morning after the alarm has gone off, immediately reach for your smart phone to check your Facebook or Twitter account? How many times during lunch, dinner, or out with friends do you do a quick check of your IM?

Guilty. I do all of that, and more.

It’s this kind of pull that can make you miss the little, and very important, moments in life. Feeling tied to your online lifeline can become a heavy burden, one that’s not easily recognizable but very much felt.

Take one weekend a month (more if you’d like) and power down. By that, I mean keep your smart phone handy, but only take or make calls. Switch your alerts to vibrate or silent and make a conscious effort to spend time “in the now” with friends, family, your pets, nature, or yourself. As you lie in bed on Sunday night after a weekend of limited online chatter, check in with yourself and count how many special moments you had over the weekend. Then calculate your stress level on a scale of one to ten, one being the lowest. If your special moments add up to higher than your stress level, job well done.

Now, the next tip kind of goes together with powering down. You may find that, while disconnected from your digital obligations, you’re feeling more energetic, restless. You may feel like exercising – for the first time in a long time, or more than usual. If this is the case, you may want to warm up first. Studies have shown that a nice warm-up prior to exercising can help to decrease injury.

Now, warming up is different that stretching. While stretching is pushing a muscle beyond its normal range, warming up is getting your entire body in motion, getting the blood circulating and getting your muscles moving.

One GREAT way to get warmed up is to jump rope. If you haven’t done this since you were a kid, no worries – it’s much like riding a bike. Check out our Health Library on how to get started and some helpful hints on how to get the right rope for you.

Let us know if you put these tips into action, and how they work for you!


Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month


September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. It’s a cancer that’s often misdiagnosed, and 75% of the time is discovered in the late stages of the disease.

Some of the symptoms include, but aren’t limited to:



-pelvic pain

-frequent urination

-feeling full quickly

-difficulty eating (nausea)

-pain during intercourse


-back pain


-menstrual irregularities

-unexplained weight loss/gain

If you have had any of these physical changes recently and they’ve recurred daily for at least two weeks, contact your physician.

A normal pap smear does not test for ovarian cancer – be sure to ask your doctor for a pelvic/rectal exam.

For more information on detection, types, and treatment of ovarian cancer, please visit the Siteman Cancer Center ovarian cancer toolkit here.


Women and Heart Disease Awareness Should be Higher


Statistics say only 13 percent of women consider heart disease to be their greatest personal health risk. That number is far from accurate and doctors are working overtime to tell women heart disease is their number one killer.

As a public relations person, I try to get this message out. Still, it seems the threat of breast cancer casts a pretty big shadow over all things heart disease.

“Heart disease has always been a problem in women,” says Jane Chen, MD, Washington University electrophysiologist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. “It is the number one killer of women, more than breast cancer or lung cancer combined and it’s just in recent years that more awareness has come about.”

Dr. Chen says it’s important not only for older women to recognize their risk of heart disease, but younger women as well.

“One of the misconceptions is that premenopausal women are protected from heart disease, but it affects women who are premenopausal as well,” says Dr. Chen. “In fact, one of every 9,000 heart attacks occur in women less that 45 years old.”

While the most common symptom of heart problems in women is the same as in men – chest pain – there are other symptoms that present mainly in women.

“Women can have not so classic symptoms, such as jaw pain or things that feel like indigestion,” says Dr. Chen. “They might just be more tired and fatigued without any specific discomfort anywhere, so a lot of uncommon symptoms can happen to women.”

Overall, Dr. Chen advises younger women that the best way to lower their risk for heart disease is to exercise, get regular checkups with physicians, keep an eye on blood pressure and cholesterol, and if you are smoking, stop.

Come February, you’ll hear a lot more of this message with American Heart Month and the American Heart Association’s “Go Red for Women” campaign.  Until then, for more information, listen to this podcast with cardiac surgeon Jennifer Lawton, MD or watch this video here:

-Jason Merrill

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