Oprah Winfrey Reveals the Scary Cardiac Symptom That Was Actually a Sign of Menopause

Oprah Winfrey had intense heart palpitations prior to menopause, and wants to inform other women about this common symptom

Oprah Winfrey attends the Los Angeles Red Carpet Premiere Event for Hulu's "The 1619 Project" at Academy Museum of Motion Pictures on January 26, 2023 in Los Angeles, California.
Photo: Alberto Rodriguez/GA/The Hollywood Reporter via Getty

Oprah Winfrey knows from personal experience that perimenopause and menopause can interrupt a woman's life.

When she was 48, she stopped sleeping well and started experiencing intense heart palpitations. Frightened, she went to five different doctors, including a cardiologist who gave her an angiogram. Doctors put her on heart medication, though they had no explanation for her symptoms — not one of them mentioned perimenopause or menopause as a possible cause, although as many as 40% of women can experience palpitations as a symptom.

When she stumbled upon the book The Wisdom of Menopause by Dr. Christiane Northrup, she finally understood her distressing symptoms. The discovery encouraged her to do several shows about it, making her one of the first media personalities to talk openly about the topic.

Winfrey is continuing to educate women about menopause in her latest "The Life You Want" class on Oprahdaily.com. She invited Maria Shriver, Drew Barrymore and Gayle King as well as doctors Sharon Malone and Heather Hirsch to discuss, share and openly ask questions about The Big M to kick off Oprah Daily's new guide to menopause.

Oprah rollout 4/24
Oprah Daily panel on menopause. Philip Friedman/Oprah Daily

After Oprah entered menopause, defined as 12 months without a menstrual period, she began to have trouble concentrating and her emotions felt muted.

"I wasn't vibrant. My whole world dulled down a couple of notches," she says. But after she started hormone replacement therapy, (HRT) she says, "I got my first click of estrogen and I was like, the sky is bluer!"

"I would have been headed for depression if I had not been on estrogen," Oprah says. Mental health symptoms, loss of concentration, heavy bleeding, weight gain and even joint pain are some of the more than 30 lesser-known perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms.

"It's not just about hot flashes!" says Dr. Kathleen Jordan, chief medical officer at Midi Health, a telemedicine practice dedicated to helping women through hormonal transition. "It's not just your uterus losing estrogen and your periods stopping. The rest of your body feels the crashing hormone levels, too."

Women experiencing symptoms should talk to a doctor — Jordan recommends finding someone through the North American Menopause Society, since only 17% of OB-GYNs are trained to treat menopause.

Jordan tells PEOPLE the go-to regimen is usually an estrogen patch with an oral progesterone, both bioidentical — meaning it is the same molecule as our own natively made hormones. These FDA-approved patches deliver the hormone reliably and are now generic, so they are usually covered by insurance. Beyond the patches, there are also gels, creams and pills.

"Starting HRT as close to menopause as possible, particularly in the first 10 years from the time of menopause, allows women to get the greatest benefit," Jordan says. "They will see benefits in skin and hair health, bone health, cardiovascular health and fewer cases of cancer and diabetes."

Recent studies show hormone replacement therapy to be safe, except for women who have a history of breast cancer, strokes or heart attacks. For those women, there are non-hormonal options including lifestyle and naturopathic interventions.

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