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Un-Break Her Heart

Toni Braxton Faces Her Heart Disease With Courage
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WebMD Magazine - Feature

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."

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The next thing she remembers is waking up and being told she had passed out.

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 says.

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