Sunday, March 1, 2009

Blood Testing for Menopause

The menopausal ovary, in the absence of eggs, is unable to produce significant amounts of the female sex hormones. If a blood test is done to measure the levels of estrogen and progesterone, they will be found to be at significantly low levels. The function of the ovaries is under the control of the pituitary gland, found at the base of the brain and functions as the master controller for the many hormonal glands in the body. The pituitary gland is very sensitive to the hormonal output of the ovaries and it begins to react when the ovaries fail to produce estrogen and progesterone in the bloodstream. The pituitary gland compensates with the failure of the menopausal woman's ovaries. It quickly starts to secrete large amounts of a hormonal messenger known as the follicle stimulating hormone, stimulating the ovaries to put them back into action. But still, the ovaries have stopped producing estrogen and progesterone, despite the hormonal stimulation of the pituitary gland and the ovaries remain dormant. The pituitary gland then continues to produce ever-increasing amounts of follicle stimulating hormone into the bloodstream. This is futile as far as the ovaries are concerned, but it does provide a useful diagnostic test your physician can use to asses whether you are menopausal. Typically, follicle stimulating hormone blood levels are quite high if you are menopausal, approximately ten to fifteen times higher than the normal level for women not yet approaching menopause.

These blood tests can be very useful if you are experiencing many vague symptoms for which your physician can find no obvious cause. Premenopausal symptoms can range from chronic fatigue, rheumatic aches and pains, to anxiety and depression. There may be poor libido due to a relative deficiency of estrogen and progesterone. Though this stage of a woman's reproductive cycle occurs in her late 40s, it may start at any time after the age of 35. It is often associated with a change in the pattern of the menstrual cycle, with menstrual bleeding becoming erratic. During the premenopausal years, blood tests to measure the level of estrogen, progesterone and follicle stimulating hormone may be able to indicate a relative deficiency of estrogen and progesterone. If a deficiency is identified, appropriate hormone replacement therapy can be introduced to correct it.

A blood test to measure hormone levels is a simple and relatively non-invasive technique. It may also be appropriate to try a course of natural hormone replacement therapy for at least three months to see if these premenopausal symptoms can be relieved. Such treatment can be dramatically effective and often prevents the need for sedatives, painkillers and anti-inflammatory agents in premenopausal women.

Some women are told not to worry about their hormones until they stop menstruating completely; once this occurs, they can return to the physician. But by this stage you may have experienced premenopausal symptoms for years - which in this day and age is no longer necessary - and even your friends will be able to call you menopausal. You won't need a doctor to finalize the diagnosis.

Michael Russell Your Independent guide to Menopause

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