Red Dress To Symbolize That Heart Disease Kills

A woman in a red dress makes a bold fashion statement, but first lady Laura Bush and a group of top fashion designers are hoping to turn into an icon for something more crucial: heart disease.

According to a national survey, only a third of women know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for women. Yet heart disease is the leading cause of death among women, killing 366,000 a year, according to the National Institutes of Health. In addition, 8 million American women are currently living with heart disease, 10 percent of women age 45 to 64, and 25 percent of women 65 and older.

So Bush along with a group of 19 red dress designers ranging from Bill Blass to Vera Wang helped the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute launch the Red Dress Project to end Fashion Week in New York. It is meant to help drive home that heart disease is not just a man's disease, but a top killer of women. Just as the pink ribbon symbolizes breast cancer, and the red ribbon symbolizes AIDS prevention, the red dress will serve as the national symbol for women and heart disease.

The slogan is, "Heart disease doesn't care what you wear."

Lifestyle Changes Needed

Heart disease kills more women than stroke, lung disease, lung cancer and breast cancer combined and accounts for a third of all deaths annually.

The new campaign is aimed at women 40 to 60, when the risk of heart disease rises. Bush urges lifestyle changes and says that she herself has started trying. She has added more fruits and vegetables to her diet, and is also exercising more. Instead of just cardiovascular exercise, she has also added strength training, three times a week.

The first lady also recommended regular preventive screenings, and said women need to be aware that chest pain could be a sign of a heart attack — that it doesn't just happen to men.

Health statistics show the rate of heart disease is 72 percent higher among African-American women, compared to whites. Women who smoke have the same risk of heart attack as non-smokers, 19 years older. Other risk factors are diabetes and high blood pressure.

Women are twice as likely as men to die after bypass surgery, and also more likely to die within a year of having a heart attack.