At some point during menopause, your doctor may order a follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) test. This test is performed on both men and women, but is more commonly used for women concerned with confirmation of menopause or possible fertility issues.
What are FHS hormones?
Follicle stimulating hormones are produced in the pituitary gland. In women, these hormones are responsible for regulating your menstrual cycle. Additionally, FSH affects egg production in the ovaries. (In men, the FSH control sperm production). Unlike men, whose FSH levels are fairly level and consistent, women experienced greater fluctuation.
In normal and healthy ovaries, estrogen production ensures a supply of eggs for fertilization. When estrogen levels fall during menopause, the pituitary gland releases more FSH to help compensate for the declining estrogen. But while high FSH levels sound like a good thing, in reality these high numbers indicate that the ovaries are not functioning as they should. FSH cannot replace the work of estrogen hormones.
When couples are having difficulties with pregnancy, doctors use FSH testing to help uncover fertility concerns. This may mean either a low sperm count in men or if the ovaries are not properly functioning in women. Additional concerns for women include irregular menstrual cycles or the absence of menstrual periods altogether. For many women, this is around the same time as menopause, or when having perimenopausal symptoms.
How is an FSH test done?
This is a relatively painless test with minimal invasion, although it does involve using a needle. Your doctor will take a small sample of blood for examination. This procedure may need to be done for a few days to get an accurate reading, particularly if you have erratic or absent menstrual periods, or are unable to conceive. Your doctor will measure the amount of FSH present to get a better idea of any hormone problems.
What do the results mean?
As noted earlier, high FSH levels indicate ovarian failure, particularly in women under 40. In women over 40, high FSH indicates menopause especially when accompanied by irregular periods, night sweats, hot flashes, and other typical menopausal symptoms.
At the other end of the scale, low FSH levels are not good news either, as the estrogen present in the ovaries is not able to produce eggs for ovulation and conception.
The problem with FSH testing
The biggest drawback to FSH testing is that each test represents only a captured moment in time or a sort of snapshot of your hormonal health. Because women’s hormone levels are constantly changing with each monthly menstrual cycle, it can be difficult to get a completely accurate understanding of health issues from tests alone.
Your doctor will need to take into consideration various aspects of your health history including age, smoking, hormone replacement therapy, and any other medications you may be taking.
Talk to your doctor about whether a FSH test will help to uncover any concerns about pregnancy and menopause and whether testing is the right option for you. As part of your overall healthcare plan, FSH testing can help you understand your body during menopause and prepare for possible treatment options if necessary.
Please visit www.webmd.com as a starting point to learn more.
Menopause, Your Doctor, and You is a great tool to record all your health information for your next doctor’s appointment!