What is a Menopause Test?

Karyn Maier

A menopause test is an analysis of a sample of blood or urine to check levels of available follicle-stimulating hormone (FHS) as an indicator of the onset of menopause. Normally, this hormone is secreted by the pituitary gland a few days before menstruation begins. Its function is to stimulate the ovaries to activate a mature follicle and release an egg. Once conception or menstruation takes place, FHS levels return to normal and progesterone levels increase. However, FHS levels increase as estrogen levels decline with age or from the ovaries failing to respond to biochemical triggers to either prepare the uterus for pregnancy or to shed it’s lining.

Women start to experience the signs of menopause in their late 40s.
Women start to experience the signs of menopause in their late 40s.

While it would be wildly convenient to trust that a simple test could definitively confirm whether a woman has reached menopause or not, a menopause test is not necessarily very reliable. For one thing, unless a hysterectomy has taken place, there is no way to predict when menopause will occur with precision. In addition, most women intuitively know when menopause is approaching due to experiencing irregular menstrual periods. However, menopause is not a destination with an arrival scheduled for a certain birthday. In fact, it’s a process that can take several years to complete, even as long as a decade.

Unless a hysterectomy has taken place, there is no way to predict when menopause will occur with precision.
Unless a hysterectomy has taken place, there is no way to predict when menopause will occur with precision.

Most experts agree that the menopause test presents difficulties in terms of accurately accounting for fluctuating FHS levels. In fact, FHS levels can vary considerably during times of missed periods and starting regular cycles again, a very common circumstance in perimenopausal women. In a different scenario, FHS levels may appear normal with a menopause test, but hot flashes and other symptoms are occurring because the balance of estrogen and progesterone levels are out of sync. It’s even possible for a woman to have regular periods and normal FHS levels, but without releasing an egg for fertilization. In other words, there are perfectly normal reasons for FHS fluctuations to occur from month to month and a test could pronounce a woman menopausal at one testing opportunity and not the next.

A menopause test is not necessarily very reliable.
A menopause test is not necessarily very reliable.

In short, a menopause test shouldn’t be regarded as a marker for menopause as one might view the results of a cholesterol test being an indicator of the potential for heart disease. In fact, many physicians prefer to forego the test and concentrate on symptoms that may signal that the transition to menopause is occurring. For that matter, a physician is unlikely to treat a woman unless uncomfortable symptoms are severe, regardless of the results of a menopause test.

Menopause is a gradual process and for some women may last as long as 10 years.
Menopause is a gradual process and for some women may last as long as 10 years.

This does not mean that menopause testing is a complete waste of time. Some women wish to have their FSH levels tested out of curiosity or sheer frustration over taking so long to reach menopause. The test may be performed in the doctor’s office, or in the privacy of the home. In fact, there are several menopause test home kits available for purchase without a prescription from most pharmacies and online sources.

A menopause test can be done with a blood sample.
A menopause test can be done with a blood sample.
Hot flashes are an early symptom of menopause.
Hot flashes are an early symptom of menopause.

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