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Oprah says her 1st menopause symptom affected her heart — and no doctors caught it

The media legend, 69, opened up about her perimenopause experience during a panel conversation about menopause airing on
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.
Winfrey said a female doctor put her on heart medication for the heart palpitations she experienced during perimenopause. Axelle / Bauer-Griffin / FilmMagic
/ Source: TODAY

Oprah Winfrey is opening up about the difficulty she faced getting answers from medical professionals about one commonly overlooked perimenopause symptom.

The OWN founder, 69, revealed during an April 5 panel conversation about menopause that doctors never explained to her that the heart palpitations she began experiencing in her late 40s were likely caused by entering menopause.

"I never had a hot flash in my life. Never had one ... but I started (menopause) at 48 with heart palpitations. And I went from doctor to doctor, literally five different doctors," said Winfrey. “At one point, a female doctor had given me, first of all, an angiogram and put me on heart medication and never once mentioned that this could be menopause or perimenopause."

The media legend told her panelists — which included NBC News contributor Maria Shriver, actor Drew Barrymore, Dr. Sharon Malone, Dr. Heather Hirsch and Dr. Judith Joseph — that she ended up accidentally learning about the connection in a book.

"I just happened to be in the office one day and opened a book and saw 'heart palpitations symptoms of perimenopause.'"

Winfrey invited a panel of women to talk about the perimenopause and menopause experience.Philip Friedman / Oprah Daily

Winfrey said her perimenopause symptoms also included classic signs of brain fog.

“I remember going through a period where I just felt like whatever ... and could not concentrate reading, which is my favorite thing to do,” she said. “I couldn’t focus long enough.

“A friend who was going through (menopause) said, ‘Do you find yourself not concentrating?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah.’ ‘Do you feel that you’re duller than you used to be?’ ‘Yeah,’” Winfrey recalled.

Shriver said that, in her research and reporting on menopause, she's found that many doctors misdiagnose the mental symptoms.

“Most people at Oprah’s age, when they would go (to the doctor), a lot of times, they’re like, ‘You need antidepressants.’ They diagnose you with depression and that midlife depression anxiety. And they don’t even ask you or tell you that this could be a symptom of being perimenopausal,” said Shriver.

Winfrey responded, “I would’ve for sure been headed for depression had I not been on estrogen.”

Perimenopause is also called the “menopausal transition,” said Malone, chief medical advisor of Alloy, which provides online menopause treatment.

“(It’s) where you’re going between your peak fertility years to the end of your fertility at menopause,” she continued, adding that the transition can take anywhere between four and 10 years.

Perimenopause symptoms can include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, sleep disturbances and brain fog, and they “start well in advanced of your last menstrual period,” said Malone.

Menopause, on the other hand, is a fixed point in time.

“Menopause actually starts the moment you have your last period,” Malone said. “It’s confirmed by going another 12 months and not getting another period.”

Malone said she avoids using the term postmenopausal “because you are menopausal forever. ... You’re never over it. (We) will be in it for, if we’re lucky, a third of our lives.”