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Local woman realizes heart problem while mourning friend who died of heart attack

SAN ANTONIO - It's Go Red for Women Day - the American Heart Association's annual campaign that pushes for more research and awareness of heart disease.

The statistics are shocking; Researchers say every minute a woman somewhere in the country dies from heart disease.

"It really does make you stop and think about your life," says Harriet Helmle. She is an accountant whose health became a serious issue in 1999.

"I am never going to forget the 1999 Super Bowl party at Diane's House," she says. It was at that party, where a group of people were mourning a friend who died of a heart attack, that Harriet realized she was suffering from the same symptoms.

"We all joked about it and I said, 'No, let's not go to the emergency room.'" But the next day, she went in for treatment.

Since then, she's managed her health by tracking it on a spreadsheet. Even so, last year, she came close to a major heart attack. Her doctors recognized symptoms that can be hard to detect in women.

"We have chest tightness, so we really can't catch our breath," says nurse Cori Nash with the Christus Santa Rosa Health System. "Excessive fatigue that is not getting better. It just feels like heartburn that won't get better."

Nash says women might also have nausea or back pain. Some risk factors, like diet, lack of exercise and family history of heart disease could also contribute.

Harriet now volunteers with the American Heart Association, educating herself and other women.

"If they feel something is different with their body, they need to not let go until they get somebody to pay attention to them."

Christus Santa Rosa Health System also has lots of information about heart disease and a simple risk assessment questionnaire. You can check it out here.

You can also get more information from the American Heart Association.

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