FSH levels and menopause

Menopause is different in every woman; some have worse symptoms than others, and those “others” seem not to be bothered at all by menopause. These symptoms may include irregularities in the menstrual cycle, depression, irritability, sleep disorders, hot flushes, memory problems, and more. Menopause starts with a hormone called FSH, or follicle-stimulating hormone, and it is dependent on those levels. A simple test of this hormone can determine whether the symptoms are due to menopause or another condition.

What is FSH?
As mentioned above FSH is a hormone related to menopause (and the menstrual cycle) in women. FSH is responsible for stimulating ovulation. As FSH levels rise, egg follicles are encouraged to let loose from the ovaries and travel through the fallopian tubes for fertilization. Simultaneous to FSH levels, rising, estrogen levels drop. Once the egg has been released, the body will know whether or not to start the menstrual cycle or prepare itself for pregnancy. If the period starts, estrogen levels will rise and FSH levels will drop.

The Relationship Between Menopause and FSH Levels
During menopause, there is an absence of ovulation, so the FSH levels never drop; they constantly stay high. The symptoms and other characteristics of menopause are brought on by the lack of estrogen being produced. Consequently, the body commands the pituitary gland to produce more FSH in an effort to stimulate the ovaries to produce more estrogen. However, when a woman reaches menopause, even this effort fails to get ovarian follicles to develop. High FSH levels in women indicate that a woman is approaching, or is in, menopause.

Follicle Stimulating Hormone Test
Since the relationship between menopause and FSH levels is so strong, tests are available in a lab and over-the-counter to determine FSH levels in a woman. Knowing this, they will be able to be treated properly with the right hormones to relieve the symptoms of menopause. Remember, a high FSH level means that the body is trying to stimulate ovulation but is failing to do so. The normal level of FSH in a non-menopausal women is between 5 and 25 mIU/ml (>25 means that she is pre-menopausal; > 50 means that she is in menopause). The tests are performed with the use of either urine or saliva. The urine test is more accurate because the saliva test can be influenced by environmental factors, like smoking, certain foods, hormone replacement therapy, and oral contraceptives. If a woman does indeed find out she is menopausal, at least her mind can be eased that it is not another health condition that she needs to be worried about.

Note: There are some conditions other than menopause that can cause high levels of FSH: ovarian cysts, infertility, and polycystic ovarian syndrome. These reasons are known as secondary ovarian failure. The test can distinguish between this type, and the other, primary ovarian failure, which is the condition discussed above.

When to do the Test
To get the most accurate results, it is important to do the test (either the urine or saliva test) on a certain day of your cycle each month since hormone levels fluctuate, and can fluctuate often. If you aren’t menstruating anymore, you can take the test at any time. Always read the directions carefully. Do a follow-up test 5-7 days after the initial test that you do. A baseline test can also be helpful; determining your FSH levels during your early years (30-35), is a good indicator to base your new levels off of.

Always discuss the test results with a doctor, preferably a gynecologist, because he or she will have expert knowledge in the area and can help you cope with menopause.

Last updated on Aug 29th, 2010 and filed under Women's Health. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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