Be Aware, Be Very Aware
A doctor's visit confirmed what I'd already been told: I don't have heart disease. Over the next six months, my attempts to figure out what I did have led me to four more doctors—and not one could explain the palpitations. Then one morning when I was out running, I mentioned the palpitations to my trainer, Bob Greene.
"I think it's the big M," he said.
"The big M what?" I shot back.
"I think it's menopause," he said.
I stopped and stared at him. "Of course it's not menopause!" I said. "I'm still having my periods. Regular as rain!"
Like nearly every other woman in America, I believed that menopause would hit when my periods ended—that I'd suddenly wake up one day during my fifties in a fit of hot flashing. Yet over the next few days, Bob's words stayed with me: Could he be right? Of the five doctors I'd visited, two were female. Neither had asked whether I, then age 47, might be nearing one of the major markers of a woman's life. I finally put the question directly to my fifth doctor, a heart specialist: Could I be entering menopause? "Well, if it's menopause, ma'am," he said, chuckling, "you're definitely in the wrong place! I don't know a thing about that."
What happened next can only be called a miracle. A few days later, I was walking around the Harpo offices when I noticed a book called The Wisdom of Menopause. I opened it right to page 456, where I saw a subtitle that seemed to shout directly at me: "Palpitations: Your Heart's Wake-Up Call." I spotted a woman's story that sounded exactly like my own: "I am a 48-year-old female with no major health problems." Check. "My periods are still fairly regular." Check. "About a month ago...I started experiencing heart irregularities. I felt like my heart was skipping a beat and was going to beat out of my chest!" Double check. Then I saw the line that clarified everything: "There's no question that heart palpitations at menopause are related to changing hormones."
(Before you declare yourself perimenopausal—peri means near or around—hear this: A racing heart could be a symptom of a life-threatening condition, like heart disease. If you experience irregular heart rhythm, please get to a doctor right away.)