Carla Hall
TV chef Carla Hall walks the runway at the Go Red for Women Red Dress Collection 2015, presented by Macy's during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at Lincoln Center, New York.

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)– The big killer stalking U.S. women is something too few are even worried about: heart disease.

That’s the message from Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a New York cardiologist and a national spokesperson for the American Heart Association‘s Go Red for Women campaign. She spoke with Women’s eNews last week ahead of the 2015 Red Dress Collection show, produced by the Go Red for Women campaign. The show played to a packed house at Lincoln Center on the first night here of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, which ends Feb. 19.

The point of the fashion show is to gear up awareness of women’s heart disease so it’s more in line with breast cancer, said Steinbaum, director of Women’s Heart Health at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York and author of "Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum’s Heart Book: Every Woman’s Guide to a Heart-Healthy Life."

"The pink ribbon – everyone knows what that is," Steinbaum said, referring to the well-known symbol for breast cancer research and support. "That whole notion of seeing something, seeing a red dress, is that it’s going to connect with women that ‘my heart matters.’"

Fashion is light-hearted, frothy and fun, Steinbaum said, adding that it is a perfect tool for raising awareness of women’s heart disease. "Fashion allows us to connect with it in a less scary way."

For over a decade, the American Heart Association‘s Go Red for Women campaign has asked designers to create one-of-a-kind gowns for celebrities to wear in the Red Dress Collection show during New York Fashion Week in February, which is American Heart Month. The message for women: Take care of your heart.

This Year’s Show

Designers in this year’s Red Dress show ran the gamut from big labels like Donna Karan and Oscar de la Renta to three young women in Macy’s Fashion Incubators program.

Celebrities included actress Zendaya Coleman of the Disney Channel’s "K.C. Undercover," singer Thalia and Barbara Eden of "I Dream of Jeannie," one of the most beloved TV sitcoms from the mid-1960s. Comedian Rosie O’Donnell, the survivor of a 2012 heart attack, was the show’s emcee. "I know when you think of couture, you think of Rosie O’Donnell," she joked.

Transgender star Laverne Cox (in "Orange Is the New Black") danced down the runway in a flowing red Donna Karan gown. TV chef Carla Hall (of "The Chew") played with a pair of red glasses as she vamped for the cameras in a red 1930s-style dress, designed by Stephanie Bodnar of Macy’s San Francisco Fashion Incubators program.

"It’s so much fun," said Steinbaum, "I have taken photos that I can use in my talks of the whole audience in red dresses. It feels so inspiring to be in this room full of people supporting this cause."

The show was presented by Macy’s, a sponsor of the American Heart Association‘s campaign.

While 1-in-3 women will now die of heart disease, Steinbaum emphasizes that steps taken by women working in conjunction with their doctors can change that statistic.

"The most amazing thing is that 80 percent to 90 percent of heart disease is preventable," said Steinbaum.

Educating doctors and expanding women’s involvement in research are crucial elements of the Go Red for Women campaign to fight heart disease in women, said Steinbaum.

Higher Risk for Some

Steinbaum said heart disease is rising in all groups of women younger than age 55. African American women and Latina women "have a higher incidence of heart attacks and worse outcomes," Steinbaum said.

The American Heart Association says that "African American women are disproportionately affected by heart disease, leading the death rate regardless of age. Of African American women ages 20 and older, 49 percent have heart diseases.

"On average, Hispanic women are likely to develop heart disease 10 years earlier than non-Hispanics," the American Heart Association says.

The reasons for these alarming trends among African Americans and Latinas are an increase in obesity and hypertension, two risk factors, Steinbaum said. "They’re getting sicker earlier, and there’s an increase in kidney disease," she said. "That brings it all back to prevention more than anything, getting blood pressure down and tracking these women as soon as we can."

When it comes to heart health, it’s all about the numbers, Steinbaum said. "At the American Heart Association, we say: ‘Know your numbers.’ It’s about blood pressure, cholesterol levels, body mass index and waist circumference."

Body mass index, or BMI, calculates body fat based on height and weight. A BMI of 30 or more is related to obesity, which increases a woman’s risk of heart disease. A waistline that exceeds 35 inches raises a woman’s risk of a heart attack.

"We need to be ruthlessly honest with ourselves and evaluate our lifestyles," Steinbaum said. "Are you sleeping enough? Eating right? Exercising enough? Women think they can keep going and take care of everyone else. Having women pay attention to themselves is critical."

Taking Care

Women must learn to not push themselves so hard and take care of themselves when they’re sick.

"The message to women is that it doesn’t matter how hard you work, if you’re sick," Steinbaum said. "I am that woman who will push myself to the Nth degree. It’s not worth going to work if you’re sick. Somehow we just push through because we’ve had to fight for where we are in the workplace."

Speaking of stress, smoking, which is more often used in a stress-response way by women, is another risk factor. Regardless of age, your risk of heart disease and stroke decreases up to 50 percent in the first year after quitting, writes Sherry McKee, in a 2014 commentary for Women’s eNews.

For breast cancer survivors, the risk of heart disease is increased by certain treatments."Having breast cancer in and of itself doesn’t put you at risk," Steinbaum said. "Having radiation to the chest puts a woman at risk for a heart attack. And certain chemo treatments put a woman at risk for heart failure."

Cardio-oncology is part of the treatment plan for more women with breast cancer, she said.

"Women are screened for heart disease while they’re undergoing treatment."

Post-menopausal women face a higher risk of heart disease, Steinbaum said. "As a woman goes through menopause, there’s an increase in LDL, the bad cholesterol, and a decrease in HDL, the good cholesterol," she said. "One of the best things she can do for herself is exercise. Weight goes down. LDL goes down. HDL goes up."

To help her female patients remember the difference between the two types of cholesterol, Steinbaum offers this memory device: "I always say H is for happy – the higher the better. L is for lousy – the lower the better."

If a woman undergoes menopause the natural way, it takes 10 years for estrogen to leave the body, Steinbaum said. "At that 10-year mark is when we see an increase in incidents," which are heart attacks or strokes.

Surgery, such as the removal of the ovaries as part of a hysterectomy, immediately increases a woman’s risk of a heart attack or a stroke because her body is no longer producing estrogen.

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