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Heart Disease Health Center

Un-Break Her Heart

Toni Braxton Faces Her Heart Disease With Courage
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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.

Today, Braxton knows better. And as a spokesperson for the American Heart Association's "Red Dress" campaign, she's on a mission to educate women about their health -- especially women who think, like she once did, that it can't happen to them. She now advises women to become more proactive and involved in their health care. "Know what [medication] you're taking and why," she says. "Know what you're treating."

"I'm the poster child for women and people all over the world," says Braxton. "If it happened to me, it can happen to you. We can prevent it, we can fix it! Sometimes people get scared. They'll say, 'I don't want to go to the doctor, they might find something.' It's OK because you can get it taken care of. That's more important."

When it comes to health, the biggest mistake women make is never putting themselves first, she says.

"A lot of times, we don't have the time, but you've got to squeeze yourself in there some way. Women are so used to taking care of the household, the kids, and everything else, they always put themselves last."

Nieca Goldberg, MD, a cardiologist who heads women's cardiac care at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, agrees that women often brush symptoms aside. As they juggle family and job obligations, women fear that everything around them might collapse if they had to go to the hospital with a serious illness. With time in such short supply, it's important, Goldberg says, to develop a support network of friends and family members who can watch your child when you have a doctor's appointment, ideally with a physician who can accommodate you during early morning and evening hours.

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