When you begin menopause, you’ll likely know it. Most women expect this life change and recognize the symptoms. Your doctor or gynecologist can also help you determine if you’re beginning menopause. They’ll ask about your symptoms, track your cycle, and possibly conduct a few medical tests.
This life stage usually happens between the ages of 40 and 60. Menopause is likely if you haven’t had a period in six months or longer. It’s clinically confirmed after 12 full months without a period. Menopause can be self-diagnosed in most cases. Consulting with your doctor will confirm a diagnosis and help you identify ways to reduce negative symptoms. It will also give you a chance to ask questions about what to expect.
To prepare for your visit, you should track any symptoms you’re experiencing, how many times a day or week they occur, and their severity. Be sure to note when you had your last period and report any irregularities that might have occurred. Also, make a list of medications and supplements you’re currently taking.
Your doctor will ask you about the date of your last period as well as how often you experience symptoms. You should be sure to tell them about hot flashes, spotting, mood swings, trouble sleeping, or sexual problems. Don’t be afraid to discuss all symptoms with your doctor. Menopause is a natural part of life, and these topics are commonplace for your doctor. Usually the symptoms women experience are enough to diagnose menopause.
Vaginal pH levels can also help confirm menopause. During reproductive years, vaginal pH is about 4.5. During menopause, pH rises to about 6. Your doctor can swab the vagina to test the pH levels.
If you’re having menopausal symptoms and you or your doctor is unsure whether you’ve begun menopause, your doctor may order tests to rule out other health problems such as ovarian failure or a thyroid condition. These may include:
- a blood test to check your levels of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and estrogen
- a thyroid function test
- a lipid profile
- tests for liver and kidney function
Although it’s rarely needed, your doctor may decide to do a blood test to check your hormone levels. Specifically, they’ll look at the levels of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and estrogen. During menopause, your FSH levels increase, and estrogen levels decrease. FSH is a hormone released by the anterior pituitary gland. During the first half of your menstrual cycle, this hormone stimulates maturation of eggs as well as a hormone called estradiol. Estradiol is a form of estrogen that is responsible for (among other things) the growth of the uterus, fallopian tubes, and vagina.
In addition to confirming menopause, this test can detect signs of certain pituitary disorders. Your doctor might order an additional blood test to check your thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) because hypothyroidism can cause symptoms that are similar to menopause.
Once menopause has been confirmed, your doctor will discuss treatment options. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may not need any. However, your doctor may recommend certain medications and hormone therapies to deal with symptoms that could affect your quality of life.