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Guide to Menopause
|Can I Test For Menopause?
There is no medical test (yet) that can accurately diagnosis menopause. In most cases, menopause symptoms and signs are enough for many women to know that they have begun their menopause transition. Typically menopause can begin any time after the age of 40. A woman's menstruation cycle usually becomes irregular during the perimenopause phase, and when she has missed periods for 12 consecutive months, she has 'officially' reached menopause. However, some women, particularly those in their early 40s, may be anxious to have a medical diagnosis to rule out any other causes (hypothyroidism for example exhibits similar symptoms to those of menopause) or to indeed know if they are going through the early stage of menopause. In this case, a doctor can perform various blood tests to check for hormone levels. Those tests can check estradiol (estrogen) levels, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) or luteinizing hormone (LH) levels. In certain cases, if hypothyroidism is suspected, a test for thyroid-stimulating hormones may be carried out.
In depth view: The effects of menopause on the body, and the role of hormones.
What Blood Tests Check For Menopause?
Your doctor may carry out a blood test to check levels of one or all of the below listed hormones. However, it is important to remember that hormone tests do have their limitation. Laboratory errors can occur and hormone levels do fluctuate from day to day. This is partly why doctors do not routinely use these tests for testing menopause.
Estrogen (Estradiol) Test
Estradiol is the most important form of estrogen found in the body and is produced by the ovaries. As a woman enters menopause, estrogen levels naturally drop which means low estradiol levels are certainly one indicator. Normal estradiol levels are between 25 and 75 pg/ml. Levels below this are an indicator of entering menopause. In general, anything lower than 50, a woman may still be having periods, but beginning to experience signs of menopause including vaginal dryness, hot flashes and sleeping difficulties. This is why estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) is one possible treatment option for women suffering severe menopause symptoms. Read also, effects of estrogen on the body.
Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) Test
FSH is the hormone produced by the pituitary gland. FSH levels rise when the ovaries start producing less estrogen, so a high level of FSH can indicate a woman is entering menopause. Follicle stimulating hormone levels above 10 to 12 mlu/ml indicates that the ovaries are starting to fail. In other words, it shows that a woman has entered perimenopause, and she may well notice other signs such as irregular periods. FSH levels of higher than 40 usually indicate that ovaries have failed and that a woman is in menopause. It is worth noting that periods can still occur, even if FSH levels are above 40. In other words, a woman can technically be in menopause and still have periods for a certain time.
Luteinizing Hormone (LH) Test
Also known as lutropin, a rise of LH levels can indicate ovary failure. Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) can cause similar symptoms, so it may be necessary to rule it out. Normal pre-menopausal LH levels are 5 to 20 mlU/ml.
Recent studies indicate that lower levels of testosterone may also be an indicator of premature menopause (particularly in women who experienced a surgically induced menopause).
When Should A Test Be Taken?
1. If you are still having periods, ask your doctor to take a blood sample on day 3 of your menstrual cycle. That is the third day of your period.
2. As hormones can fluctuate considerably, your doctor may advise more than one test (usually a month later).
3. As different laboratories use different ranges to determine their results, ask your doctor to explain the range used by the lab.
What Other Tests Are There?
A doctor may perform a transvaginal ultrasound to view the ovaries. This helps the doctor to determine if any eggs or follicles are remaining. The result is not seen as particularly relevant however as 75 percent of women diagnosed with premature ovarian failure still have follicles. This test is more useful for women seeking pregnancy after 35 and who are considering pursuing an aggressive fertility program. See also preparing for pregnancy if this describes your situation.
Saliva Hormone Tests
Not as widely used as blood tests, a salvia test can be used as a quick measure of hormone levels. Unlike blood tests, salvia tests can only show results from 'free' hormones circulating the body - that is hormones which are not bound by proteins but able to move into cells. This is in fact less than 5 percent of the body's hormones, so results are not particularly accurate. There are many salvia home test kits sold online or in pharmacies for between $20-$50.
Menopause Home Test Kits
There is a wide variety of home kits advertised for testing menopause. They are aimed at women in their 30s who wish to monitor ovarian function, an early indicator of menopause. Women in their 40s and 50s may choose to use these tests to see if symptoms they are having, such as hot flashes and headaches are related to menopause. Some kits work by testing Follicle stimulating hormone levels, others by measuring estrogen and luteinizing hormone. The majority of kits do not require a blood sample, but rather require the woman to urinate on a stick, very similar to a pregnancy test. Within a few minutes a positive or negative result will appear on the screen of the stick.