For a perimenopausal woman, sometimes the most basic question is the most important: “how can I know for sure that I’m menopausal?”
Well, if you’re not too keen on visits to the doctor, you will definitely know that you’re menopausal if you have not had a period for twelve consecutive months. For some women, that’s all they need to know. But seeing a doctor and discussing your symptoms is extremely important given that they could be caused by a more serious condition (malfunctioning thyroid, for example), or to simply get the best treatment for you without having to wait a full year of going through the menopause.
More common is the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) test. This is a blood test that reflects your estrogen and FSH levels.
Before we delve into the methods of testing for the menopause, bear in mind that some GPs may be reluctant to administer tests because (at times) some in the medical community are a bit behind when it comes to the menopause. Some doctors are reluctant to give a test, especially if your symptoms could be a sign of something else. Of course, it’s great to rule out any serious condition, but many women have commented that their GP has refused to give them a test. If this is the case with you and your GP, keep being persistent and if nothing works, consider changing GPs or requesting a referral to a menopause clinic.
If you can get a test, it’s likely to look like one of the following. A GP can take a swab of your vagina to test the pH level of it, which changes during the menopause. Vaginal pH is usually about 4.5 during reproductive years and 6 during the menopause! That said, this isn’t the most reliable method to test for the menopause given that pH levels can fluctuate for a number of reasons. More common is the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) test. This is a blood test that reflects your estrogen and FSH levels. FSH is a hormone released by the body to stimulate both estradiol (a form of estrogen) and the maturation of eggs.
If you are still getting the occasional period…it is recommended that you go for multiple tests over the course of a few months.
With that in mind, what test results suggest you’re menopausal? A good rule of thumb is that if a your FSH blood level is higher than 30 mIU/mL and you are experiencing symptoms, you are likely to be menopausal. However, a single FSH test can be very misleading! Hormone levels fluctuate during perimenopause (the years leading up to the menopause), and so do FSH levels. Additionally, if you are on some hormone therapy, like birth control for example, then the FSH test isn’t valid.
If you are still getting the occasional period or if you haven’t gone a full year without your period, but quite a few months, it is recommended that you go for multiple tests over the course of a few months. This can give you a more accurate picture of your average FSH blood level in a given year. While this may seem daunting, it’s a great idea to get tested early on so you can start treating your symptoms as they come!