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Health Team

Heart disease more likely to affect women

Posted February 12, 2009 5:40 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

— While sudden cardiac death is declining in men, the chance of its affecting women has stayed the same or, in some cases, slightly increased. Women have a 10 percent higher risk of dying from heart disease than men have.

Doctors say women need to be aware of the warning signs of heart trouble.



Donna Archer, of Clayton, suffered two heart attacks five years ago. She now wants women to know the symptoms she had.

”Your jaws are hurting, your shoulders are hurting and you're short of breath,” Archer said.

It could feel like the flu with nausea, vomiting or cold sweats. Other signs include fatigue or weakness or increased anxiety, loss of appetite and discomfort.

When Archer felt her chest pain, she didn’t believe it was anything serious.

“I was one of the ones who truly thought it was indigestion,” Archer said.

The pain led to her husband, Ron, calling an ambulance, however.

“Then we went to the hospital and while we were there, I had another heart attack – and that was the bad one,” Archer said.

After treatment and recovery, Archer quit smoking, ate healthier and exercised more. Then a year later, at age 55 she had a stress test.

“And during that stress test, my heart rhythm went out of whack,” Archer said.

Archer suffered cardiac arrest, which can lead to sudden cardiac death. Her doctor shocked her heart back into rhythm.

Archer said she was amazed at how suddenly her heart disease threatened her life.

Dr. Kevin Campbell, a WakeMed cardiologist, gave Archer an ICD, or implantable cardiac defibrillator. The device is placed under the skin of the chest and attached to wires leading to the heart to shock it back into rhythm if needed.

“It's fired on me before. It's going to work,” Archer said.

In addition to making women aware of the symptoms, Archer hopes women will reduce their risk of heart disease before it threatens their life.

Experts recommend women get regular health screenings. Risk factors for the disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, inactivity and a family history of the disease. Weight can also play a part. Overweight people are at a greater risk, but reducing weight by 10 pounds can significantly reduce risk.