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Singer Toni Braxton Helps To Spread The Message About Her Heart Disease

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At a fit 110 pounds, 40-year-old Grammy winner Toni Braxton hardly seems like a poster girl for heart disease. But she is—literally. Four years ago Braxton felt tired and short of breath, with "tightness" in her chest. She chalked it up to starring in "Aida" and to being a new mom to sons Denim, now 6, and Diesel, now 4. She even wondered if it was her childhood asthma recurring. Finally, during an "Aida" intermission, she felt the room "spinning a little bit," she says. She wound up in the emergency room—and learned that she suffered from pericarditis, an inflammation of the lining of the heart. Because of the pericarditis, her heart flutters now. Also, last year Braxton found out that she also had high blood pressure: 160/105 without medication. Now she takes a beta-blocker to lower it and walks on a treadmill at least 20 minutes a day. She also tries to resist her salty favorite foods, like burgers with bacon. Instead she opts for "vinegary salads," asparagus and low-sodium chicken and jambalaya soups.

When most Americans think about someone with heart disease, they don't envision Braxton. "You think it's some older guy, retired," says the R&B singer and songwriter, who is now serving as a spokeswoman for Campbell Soup Co.'s GoRedWithCampbells.com. (The company is donating $1 to the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women campaign for every person who votes for his or her favorite red dress before Jan. 30.) "You can be in your 30s, less than 115 pounds, exercise—and have heart disease."

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