Perimenopause and menopause come with a myriad of symptoms. Some are well known (hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings and fatigue, to name a few), while some are more uncommon and lesser known (burning mouth syndrome, crawling sensation on skin or electric shocks).
There’s another symptom that women may be experiencing, but don’t associate it with perimenopause or menopause. Oh, how I wish I had known about this fright-inducing symptom before I had my meltdown.
September 19, 2014. It was a mild, sunny day in Stamford, Connecticut. I was excited about the day ahead of me. I had recently turned 51. As far as I knew, I hadn’t been experiencing any obvious symptoms of menopause. Then again, I wasn’t exactly privy to what the symptoms were, aside from hot flashes. I was effectively in the dark, having never had that crucial conversation with my mother, my older sisters, my gynecologist or anyone else.
Life was relatively normal for me except for one odd thing. The previous week, I had been experiencing an odd fluttering sensation in my chest, but I ignored the symptoms. I didn’t want to be hypochondriacal, so I ignored it.
On that unseasonably warm Sunday, my focus was on my destination. Gospel music played softly through the car speakers as I cruised up the Merritt Parkway on my way to Bridgeport for brunch. That’s when it happened.
It began as a flutter in my chest, then escalated to so much more. I didn’t know what was happening to me. Was I having a heart attack? A stroke? Panic washed over my body as my arms began to tingle, and a prickling sensation assaulted my face. Breathing became difficult, each breath a labor of my perceived survival. The pounding in my chest was relentless.
My mind went numb. I veered off the Parkway, swerving around the corner as alarm and confusion set in. I frantically called my husband because I thought I was dying. I was sure of it. It didn’t occur to me to dial 911.
In full-blown panic mode, I began to flag down cars. A nurse driving past spotted me, stopped, called 911, spoke with my husband to keep him apprised of my condition and stayed with me until the ambulance arrived. I was transported to the hospital – my first overnight hospital stay . . . ever.
Over the next two days, I was poked, prodded, stress tested, interrogated, second-guessed and awakened every four hours – no one had a clue what was wrong with me. I was released from the hospital with a diagnosis of “Anxiety Attack.”
When I arrived back home – disillusioned with the medical community and annoyed at being labeled an anxiety case – I turned to Google. I began to research my symptoms. My virtual legwork paid off. I came across an article in O, The Oprah Magazine. The article had a profound impact on me because 1) it was penned by Oprah, and 2) I saw myself in her words.
Now, here is where Oprah and I have simpatico – she was experiencing the same symptoms that plagued me. Oprah awoke with such intense heart palpitations, her heart was pounding like it was about to beat out of her chest. She, too, thought she was knocking at death’s door. And this shared scare – this over-stimulation of the heart resulting in an increasing heart rate – is related to diminished estrogen levels.
After further research and a subsequent visit to a menopause specialist, I was able to put a name to what happened to me: Premature Ventricular Contractions (PVCs).
The Mayo Clinic defines PVCs as “extra heartbeats that begin in one of your heart's two lower pumping chambers (ventricles).” PVCs are generally regarded as non-threatening, however, frequent PVCs may increase the risk of developing a more serious arrhythmia or cardiomyopathy.
Time Marches On
I continued to experience PVCs for the next couple of weeks. Knowing what it was went a long way in allaying my fears of my immediate demise.
Today, I still have the occasional PVC episode, but I do what I can to manage the occurrences. I’ve cut down drastically on my sugar intake and processed foods in favor of whole foods. When I’m in the throes of a PVC onset, mindful breathing has helped to calm me and relax my breathing.
Perimenopause and menopause have their own set of problems. While a lot of what occurs during this time is bothersome, there are also some positive aspects to be considered: period-free, shrinking fibroids, or no pregnancy worries, among others.
Unfortunately, with perimenopause and menopause comes a significant drop in estrogen. When that occurs, our bodies respond (and not in the way we want). Sadly, that triggered response doesn’t result in silky flowing hair, a miraculously perky bosom or an increased metabolism. Simply put, perimenopause sucks. And then comes menopause – this is that delightful stage where women are blessed with the amazing opportunity to jump out of the frying pan and take up residence in the fiery pit of Lady Hell (yeah, I’m looking at you, hot flashes).
Take heart, though, ladies. The picture is not as bleak as it seems. Palpitations aren’t necessarily the end of the world. Having said that, if you experience palpitations, don’t ignore that fluttering and pounding sensation. Schedule an appointment with your doctor so that other, more serious ailments can be ruled out, such as atrial fibrillation. (The risk of heart disease increases for menopausal women, so be mindful of this).
Your palpitations could be a symptom of perimenopause . . . or not.
NOTICE: PEPPER & WITS DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL OR HEALTH CARE ADVICE. OUR EMPLOYEES AND OTHER REPRESENTATIVES ARE NOT PHYSICIANS OR HEALTH CARE CLINICIANS. YOU SHOULD CONSULT YOUR PERSONAL PHYSICIAN FOR ANY MEDICAL AND/OR OTHER HEALTH CARE ADVICE BEFORE ACTING ON ANY INFORMATION PROVIDED BY PEPPER & WITS OR ANY OTHER SOURCE.