‘Am I going through the menopause?’ It’s something many women ask themselves when certain symptoms start bothering them. A new test can now answer that question with greater certainty.
Many GPs won’t bother testing women for the menopause. It is simply accepted that the perimenopause begins in a women’s mid 40s, with the average age of the menopause being 52. If women want to check their hormone level, they usually have to go to a private gynaecologist.
A new test, called MenoCheck which tests anti-Mullerian hormone, won’t give the precise date, but for women in their late 40s it will be able to predict if periods will be ceasing in the next 12 months.
Up until now, the best biochemical indicator was FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) levels.
Dr Caje Moniz, Consultant Clinical Biochemist and Head of Biochemistry at King’s College Hospital commented: “The menopause is a result of a loss of ovarian function. When approaching the menopause, periods become irregular, FSH levels increase in an attempt to stimulate the ovaries and overcome the negative inhibition that they normally exert.”
He added: “Measuring FSH in the blood can give an indication of ovarian status and whereas levels fluctuate during normal periods , this fluctuation increases 4-5 fold at the climecteric (a word to describe pre-menopause syndrome ie a period of time when hormone levels are changing as ovarian function declines, but has not ceased altogether).
Medically, the menopause is regarded as a period of 12 months since periods fail altogether and eventually remain elevated signalling cessation of ovarian function and the menopause.
Dr Moniz says there are laboratory tests to show your FSH levels. “FSH levels increases erratically but progressively through the climactic and remain elevated after the menopause and we have laboratory cut-off points to define this.
“The period of time varies in each person. There are established levels of FSH that can be measured in the blood by the laboratory and a doctor can interpret to advise on menopausal status.
Periods usually become more infrequent before stopping for good. They stop because the ovaries run out of functioning eggs, which leads to lower levels of anti-Mullerian hormone – a chemical made by eggs – in blood.
Previous tests haven’t been able to measure the very low levels of anti-Mullerian hormone present in the year or two before menopause. But MenoCheck, which has been on sale for about a year, is more sensitive.
Blood samples taken annually from around 1500 women were analysed by scientists at the University of Colorado Medical School.
It was discovered that those over 47 whose anti-Mullerian hormone level was below a certain cut-off had a 67 per cent chance of having their last period within the next year, and an 82 per cent chance of having it within two.
This test will be helpful to inform women of their health choices as they head towards the change, for example whether they should be taking HRT for its heart and bone protective properties.
Am I going through the menopause?
If you are experiencing symptoms such as hot flushes and vaginal dryness and in your 40s, it’s likely you are entering the menopause.
Sometimes women experience Premature Ovarian Insufficiency (POI) in their 20s and 30s. They should ask to be referred to a menopause and HRT specialist by their GP if they are experiencing problematic periods alongside other issues such as:
- Hot flushes
- Dull, dry skin
- Sagging breasts
- Low mood
- Vaginal dryness
- Uncomfortable sex
- Loss of libido
- Night sweats
- Putting on weight
- Hair loss
The UK’s leading menopause experts can be found at London PMS & Menopause Clinic.
The team of consultant gynaecologists includes:
The time of a woman’s life when her ovaries stop releasing an egg (ovum) on a monthly cycle, and her periods ceaseFull medical glossary