The star, who has been open and honest about her troubled past including sexual abuse, and losing her premature son when she was only 14-years-old, also wrote about her health scare. Writing on her website Oprah Daily back in 2018, Winfrey said that the day started out like any other “ordinary Friday morning,” but suddenly whilst cooking breakfast, she started to notice “a bit of soreness in [her] neck”. After suffering from continued symptoms she decided to do the fateful thing of Googling her symptoms. After looking up “swollen lymph gland causes,” and receiving no positive results, she started to panic that something was seriously wrong.
Writing about her ordeal, she said: “I recently had a health scare. It was an ordinary Friday morning. Standing at the stove, stirring scrambled eggs in a skillet, I turned to get a pinch of salt and noticed a bit of soreness in my neck.
“The area under the left side of my chin felt tender. In the mirror, I could see it was swollen. By the time I finished making breakfast, the swelling had increased. It looked like a goitre that had come out of nowhere.
“I immediately Googled ‘swollen lymph gland causes.’ None of the results were good. Next I called an internist. ‘Can you swallow?’ Yes. ‘In pain?’ Slightly. She would make room for me at 2 p.m.
“For the next four hours, I thought the worst. Why would a neck suddenly swell? Maybe it wasn’t sudden. Maybe whatever it was had been growing for days, or longer, and I only now noticed.”
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The NHS explains that a goitre is a swelling of the thyroid gland that causes a lump in the front of the neck. The job of the thyroid gland is to regulate the body’s metabolism, but the development of a goitre causes worrying symptoms that can sometimes affect breathing.
In most cases, the lump will move up and down when individuals swallow, with no other noticeable symptoms. But in other cases, individuals can experience the following:
- A tight feeling in your throat
- Changes to your voice, such as hoarseness
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
- Difficulty breathing – there may be a high-pitched sound when you breathe.
The goitre can develop for several reasons, but the most typical involve having an either overactive or underactive thyroid gland.
An overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) produces too many hormones, and can affect things like an individual’s heart rate and body temperature. On the other hand, an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can make individuals feel more tired, depressed and put on weight as there are not enough hormones being produced.
In some cases, a goitre may be a sign of thyroid cancer, which although rare in the UK, will need treatment to prevent it from spreading and becoming worse.
With worried thoughts swirling around her mind, Oprah had an agonising wait to see if she did in fact have a goitre, or something more serious. She continued to write: “I tried to recall any sense of not feeling well before standing over the stove, everything I’d done that morning and the night before.
“What had I eaten? Could it be the remnant of a cold? Except I hadn’t had a cold since 2015.
“When I finally opened my mouth to say ‘ahhh,’ I was prepared for the doctor to say, ‘I’m so sorry, Ms. Winfrey, you have’…insert terrible disease.”
However, to the star’s relief, her diagnosis was not nearly as bad as she had materialised. “What she actually said was, ‘I think your salivary glands are blocked. Go home, drink plenty of water, and try sucking on some lemons to stimulate your salivary ducts,’” Oprah explained.
In complete disbelief, Oprah called her doctor for a second opinion, who confirmed that the seemingly simple solution of drinking lots of water and sucking on a lemon would help to ease her discomfort and swelling.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I’d worked myself up to a blood pressure reading of 150/80 thinking about how I was going to rearrange my life to deal with whatever this was. Drinking water and sucking on lemons couldn’t be the answer.”
Salivary gland stones are described by the NHS as “not usually serious,” but they can cause a dull pain in the mouth that tends to come and go, swelling in your mouth that flares up from time to time and an infection around the stone.
Usually located underneath the tongue, in one of the tubes (glands) supplying saliva to your mouth some individuals are able to remove the blockages themselves. For those who have larger stones that completely block a salivary gland, meal times may become painful.
Similarly to what Oprah was advised, the NHS recommends that individuals try the following to increase saliva production:
- Sucking on a lemon or lemon drops
- Drinking plenty of water
- Gently massaging around the stone.
If individuals become unable to remove the stones themselves, a GP or medical professional may be able to gently remove it with a thin blunt instrument.
Currently it is not clear what causes salivary gland stones, so there’s no way to prevent them. They’re not generally linked with any other health problems. But for Oprah, the experience of having blocked salivary glands, has made her appreciate the simple mechanisms within the body.
She continued to write: “I was grateful. Not just because things weren’t worse, but for the simple awareness that a tiny salivary gland can get clogged with mucus or crystallised-calcium stones and disrupt your whole system. I downed a half gallon of lemon-flavoured water and sucked and puckered lemon slices through the night. By the next day, the swelling had gone down measurably. In two days, it had all but disappeared.”
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