A look at heart disease: a local woman shares her story

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(WEAU)--According to the American Heart Association, one in four American women will die of heart disease.

"You don't think that heart disease for women is the number one killer of women but it is," said Janel Gotham.

Janel Gotham was just 20 years old when she found out about her heart problem.

“When I was in college, I couldn't walk to my dorm to class without getting sick,” said Gotham.

Janel has a form of heart disease that causes her heart to race and if her heart rate isn't brought back down, she could go into cardiac arrest.

“It's very scary that I will have my one valve replaced for sure," said Gotham.

Janel is just one of millions of women living with heart condition.

According to the American Heart Association, 8 million women are affected by heart disease and another 36 million women are at risk.

“Women should know first that heart disease is their biggest threat for most of their lives," said Mayo Clinic Health System Cardiologist Regis Fernandes.

Fernandes says heart conditions in women can be difficult to diagnose because they don't usually have the traditional symptoms men do.

"Only 29% of women have chest pain," said Fernandes.

More often like in Janel's case women feel fatigued or have shortness of breath.

"People told me I was just having panic attacks at first but I knew something was wrong," said Janel.

Now at 33 and as a mother of two boys, Janel says she's thankful she went to the doctor and always makes her heart a priority.

"If you haven't gone to the doctor in a few years go and get checked," said Gotham.