FSH or Follicle Stimulating Hormone, to give it its full title, is always present in the body, not just at the time of menopause. Its job is to stimulate ovulation and the ripening of the ova and it is the main hormone involved in producing mature eggs in the ovaries.
When a woman`s ovaries start failing to release eggs, which may be for a number of reasons, but reaching menopause is certainly one of them. The pituitary gland, at the base of the brain, gets a signal to make more of the FSH in an attempt to get the ovaries to respond and cause the remaining eggs to mature. FSH is the same hormone that is contained in the injectable gonadotropins which are used to produce multiple eggs for infertility treatment. A woman can be 42 and still have some good quality eggs and still be fertile, or she can be 25 with poor quality eggs and be infertile.
This hormone and this process are a vital part of fertility and if a woman is not ovulating, she will obviously not be able to conceive. A test to check her FSH levels, will identify whether or not a woman is ovulating. It will let you know, with reasonable certainty, whether a woman’s ovaries are beginning to fail.
Usually, when a woman reaches her forties and experiences symptoms associated with menopause she will not bother to find out of she has in fact reached “the change”. She will simply assume that she has and cope with the symptoms as and when they arise. As there are certain medical conditions that can result in the ceasing of periods, a few women prefer to be certain that they are experiencing menopause and will therefore take a FSH test. As some symptoms of menopause can be quite distressing, such as mood swings, memory lapses, forgetfulness, some women take a test to put to rest their fears of some more serious condition.
The test is carried out by taking a blood or a urine sample and is so simple that there are home kits available, therefore no doctor`s visit is necessary. Although if preferred, the test can certainly be carried out at the surgery. If the woman is having a monthly periods and as the FSH level fluctuates throughout a woman`s monthly cycle, it is recommended that the test be carried out between the third to the fifth day of the period. Levels of FSH over 40 mIU/ml are considered high and would suggest ovarian failure.
It is important that the woman is not taking estrogen based contraception. Allow 6 weeks before taking the test and terminating therapy, otherwise a true reading will not be achieved.
If she is not having regular periods such as after a hysterectomy, it is advisable to obtain two samples 2 weeks apart. These may give information about residual cycle activity.
Those women who have had a hysterectomy menopause and still have their ovaries, may wish to take the test to discover whether they are menopausal. Hormone replacement therapy could then be prescribed at this stage rather than waiting for the symptoms to begin.