Toni Braxton never imagined that the lyrics to her most famous song would
come true -- or that a serious medical condition would put her name on another
set of charts.
Three years ago this September, while performing the title role of
Aida on Broadway, Grammy award-winner Toni Braxton experienced a truly
life-transforming event. "I was changing costumes, about to do my big
number before intermission, and I'm feeling really lightheaded," she
recalls. "I didn't know what was wrong with me."
Atherosclerosis -- hardening and narrowing of the arteries -- gets a lot of bad press, with good reason. This progressive process silently and slowly blocks arteries, putting blood flow at risk.
Atherosclerosis is the usual cause of heart attacks, strokes, and peripheral vascular disease -- what together are called "cardiovascular disease." Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer in America, with more than 800,000 deaths in 2005.
How does atherosclerosis develop? Who gets it, and why? This...
The next thing she remembers is waking up and being told she had passed
Braxton rose to fame as one of R&B's most successful singers during the
mid-'90s. Her string of hits -- "Breathe Again," "Another Sad Love
Song," "You Mean the World to Me," and the chart-topping
"Un-Break My Heart"- inspired the sale of several million copies of her
two albums. Her star continued to rise in the years following. She recorded her
third album, made a happy marriage with music producer Keri
Lewis, and garnered new accolades for her work on Broadway.
But suddenly Braxton found herself being rushed to the hospital. There,
doctors told her she had pericarditis, a serious heart condition.
Often caused by a virus, pericarditis is an inflammation of the tissue that
surrounds the heart. It can cause fluid to accumulate, which constricts the
heart and reduces its ability to pump blood to the rest of the body. Braxton's
doctors described her case as "probably middle stage," which refers to
the degree to which the heart's pumping ability is compromised.
Braxton's medical diagnosis petrified her. After taking medication for about a year,
she is now fully recovered. But what terrifies her even more today is the
realization that she had unwittingly ignored many of the symptoms. "I
missed all the signals," she tells WebMD.
Symptoms of pericarditis include sharp pain in the center or left side of
the chest, increased heart rate, mild fever, fatigue, and shortness of breath.
Untreated pericarditis can lead to potentially life-threatening complications,
so early detection and treatment are imperative.
At the time of her episode, Braxton had given birth to her second son,
Diezel, only five-and-a-half months earlier. She attributed her extreme fatigue
to the new baby, despite the fact that she hadn't experienced the same level of
exhaustion with her first child, Denim. And even though she was "crazy
tired," she pushed on and immersed herself in Aida rehearsals.
A month before the incident, she also started having tightness and pain in
the left side of her chest, but she again dismissed those sensations, this time
attributing them to childhood asthma. And, being in her 30s, Braxton never
thought a heart ailment could strike someone so young.
"When I was first told I had pericarditis, I said 'peri - what?' I had
no idea what it was. I thought it was an older person's disease," she