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Un-Break Her Heart

Toni Braxton Faces Her Heart Disease With Courage

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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.

An additional barrier is that women do not perceive heart disease as a real problem. According to the American Heart Association, less than 20% of women consider heart disease a threat, despite the fact that it's the No. 1 killer of women, taking more women's lives than all forms of cancer, including breast cancer.

"Instead of wasting your time worrying about symptoms, just get it checked out," says Goldberg, who has had many patients confess to her, after a medical procedure, that they hadn't been feeling well for a long time. "Women are very in touch with their bodies, and they know when something is not right."

Mona Lisa Schulz, MD, a neuropsychiatrist and the author of Awakening Intuition and the newly published The New Feminine Brain, also believes that women inherently know when something is amiss and should be more willing to act on it.

"It's important that women always attend to the first symptoms in their bodies," she says. "These symptoms are part of the feminine brain's intuition that lets you know something is out of balance in your life. The sense of warning and foreboding increases and escalates until you actually get an illness. Your body has to get your attention because every symptom is part of the body's way of saying that something needs to be attended to."

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