If you’re battling hormonal night sweats and you’re desperate for a cure to stop hot flashes, you probably already know you’re experiencing menopause. However, what if you’re not experiencing symptoms that are exclusively defined as peri-menopausal or menopausal? How do you know if you’re finally going through “the change” and one step closer to losing those pesky periods?
Medically speaking, when a woman hasn’t had a menstrual period at all for twelve months, she is defined as menopausal. How old you’ll be when you officially reach that stage depends largely on the number of eggs in your ovaries — which is basically a matter of genes. If the females in your family are usually in their early 40s when they enter menopause, chances are good that you’ll experience an early menopause too. But don’t get in too much of a hurry… A later menopause is generally associated with a longer life span.
Of course, it’s not all genetics. Your lifestyle and medical history also affect the age you’ll be when you enter menopause. Factors like whether or not you smoke and chronic illnesses can trigger an early onset of menopause — and the hormonal night sweats that come with it!
If you visit a doctor to try to find out whether or not you’re in menopause, he or she will likely look at a three things to make the determination:
- Your menstrual patterns.
- The condition of your vaginal tissues
- Your bone density and bone tissue levels.
We know that spotty or missed periods can indicate the start of menopause, but the major indicator of menopause is the condition of the vaginal tissues, which are changed by a lack of estrogen. Once menopause begins and estrogen is in shorter supply, your once-thick, plush, and pink vaginal tissues can become thin, pale, flat, and dry. If the vaginal tissue is really thin, it may appear red, and can tear and bleed easily.
Likewise, bone is sensitive to estrogen and other hormone levels, and may show density loss as estrogen production decreases.
Still, if you’re looking for black and white test results indicating whether or not menopause has begun, your doctor might perform two lab tests that offer a snapshot of the various hormone levels at the time of the visit:
- Saliva tests
- Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) test
While alone these tests are not reliable indicators of menopause, paired with a clinical evaluation, bone-density test, and thorough physical examination, they can serve as supporting evidence. Persistently elevated FSH levels usually imply impending menopause.
If you want to test your levels before visiting your doctor because you’ve experienced other symptoms of menopause — like hormonal night sweats or hot flashes –there are two tests available for at-home use:
- Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) Midstream Tests: A high FSH level may indicate that your body is working hard to release eggs, but is unsuccessful. This may indicate peri-menopause or menopause. For best results, use the test within the first three days of your period (when the levels should be at lower levels).
- Peri-Menopause/Menopause/Hysterectomy Basic Saliva Hormone Test: Your saliva contains a small amount of the hormones in your bloodstream. Cigarette smoke, certain foods, hormone therapy or hormonal contraception, and environmental stressors can affect the results of saliva tests.
Have you used any of these tests? Has your doctor ordered them? How did you finally confirm that you were menopausal?