Strutting the Catwalk in Red, Stars Promote 'The Heart Truth'

THURSDAY, Feb. 9 (HealthDay News) -- The star power gathered on the runway was impressive and so were the red-hot designer frocks, all on display at the 10th annual "The Heart Truth" Red Dress Collection fashion show, held in New York City on Wednesday night.

The Red Dress Collection, sponsored by the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, hopes to "get women to recognize that everyone carries some degree of heart disease risk," explained Dr. Nakela Cook, a medical officer and cardiologist at the institute.

"It's important to identify exactly what kind of risk each of us has, by talking to our physicians, engaging in a back and forth, and getting a personalized sense of where we're at and what steps can actually be taken in terms of prevention," Cook said.

Among those strutting down the runway were supermodel Christie Brinkley, ageless "Dynasty" star Linda Evans, Idina Menzel from "Glee," pop superstar Gloria Estefan and music legend Chaka Khan.

"I am here to be of service," Khan, 58, said backstage, as assistants made final adjustments to dresses in shades of red from designers such as Diane von Furstenberg, Donna Karan, Nicole Miller, Oscar de la Renta and Narciso Rodriguez.

"Heart disease does run in my family, on my father's side," added the multiple-Grammy winner. "So any way I can help raise awareness about this important issue is something I want to be a part of. Because many women aren't even aware of the issue, and I do think this will do a lot to spread the word."

Cook and her colleagues believe that about one-third of American women still underestimate their own level of heart risk. But they also noted that awareness has nearly doubled since The Heart Truth campaign (co-sponsored by Diet Coke) launched a decade ago.

All those scarlet fashions coming down the runway each year have helped, Cook said.

"We think that nearly 60 percent of women now recognize the red dress as a national symbol, and two-thirds say that the red dress itself makes them want to learn more about heart disease," she explained.

One key point of awareness that needs to get out there: Women may not always experience heart troubles in the same way men do.

"Women are more likely to have symptoms that aren't considered typical for men," Cook noted. "Like nausea, overwhelming fatigue and weakness, back pain, stomach or gastric discomfort. At the same time, we have managed to raise such an awareness of this unique cluster of warning signs that we may have understated the fact that the most common symptom for women -- as with men -- is still chest pain, tightness and shortness of breath."

As more women learn more about their risk for heart disease, many are trying to do something about it, Cook pointed out. "The good news is that . . . among those who know that heart disease is the number one killer of women, 35 percent are more likely to be physically active and 47 percent are more likely to report weight loss," she said.

Early on, the primary goal of The Heart Truth campaign was awareness, Cook noted, but "now we've definitely shifted to awareness leading to action. If you smoke, you should quit. If you have diabetes, you need to know that clinicians treat diabetes as a heart disease equivalent, and go to your physician and find out what that means. You may need to make changes, in terms of lifestyle, or medications, or both. It may be a matter of life and death."

More information

Here's where you can find out more about The Heart Truth campaign.

SOURCES: Nakela Cook, M.D., M.P.H., medical officer and cardiologist, U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Bethesda, Md.; Chaka Khan, singer; "The Heart Truth" Red Dress Collection, New York City, Feb. 8, 2012

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