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Jennifer Hudson fights the "lady killer"

Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the U.S., taking the lives of 8.6 million women a year -- more than cancer, stroke and COPD. It can strike both young and old. However, most women remain blissfully unaware that they are at risk for this chronic and deadly disease.

The Women's Heart Alliance is out to change that perception. On Wednesday, the organization launched a new public awareness campaign with a PSA that features actress and singer Jennifer Hudson, wrapping her hands and shadowboxing the silent "lady killer."

"For generations, heart disease has been our number one killer, striking women of every age, color and culture," says Hudson in the commercial. "Heart disease claims one woman every minute, killing more women than men, and more women than all cancers combined. I don't know about you but I intend to stay alive. Fight the lady killer."

With support from the Barbra Streisand Women's Health Center at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute and the Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, the campaign hopes to raise money and awareness to help reduce the mortality rate of women's heart disease, an area of medicine that is under-researched. Numerous studies have found women's hearts are different than men's in a number of ways, so additional research is critical.

Most people, and even some doctors, believe heart disease only strikes women in middle age or older, but the alarming truth is that young women can also be at risk and the life-threatening condition often goes undiagnosed.

The campaign features stories of women as young as 28 and 30 years old who dismissed their symptoms for years and suffered life-threatening heart attacks.

The Women's Heart Alliance is urging all women to have a conversation with their doctor about heart screening, especially anyone with a family history of the disease or symptoms. Women can reduce their risk for heart disease through healthy diet and exercise habits and not smoking. All women should have blood work to measure cholesterol, triglycerides and sugar levels, which contribute to heart disease risk.