The Signs of Menopause -- Tests
By Dr. Joan Irvine and Alice Stamm (Dearest)
Additional Reading: The 34 Signs of Menopause
Menopause is a transition -- the signs are temporary -- but what you do during this transition can affect your health for the rest of your life. It may affect the hidden risks of diseases, such as breast cancer, endometrial cancer, ovarian cancer, osteoporosis (the thinning of the bones) and cardiovascular disease (heart and blood pressure). Whether or not you have a family history of these diseases, please have your health care practitioner test you for them.
Certain tests are important in understanding and working with the signs of menopause.
The main tests are:
- Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH) test -- a blood test that checks the level of the FSH. When it is above ovulation range, menopause is complete. This test usually just verifies what you already know -- that you have gone through a hormonal change. It isn't helpful in the peri-menopausal stage. It doesn't give you the information you need to manage this change. Insist that you have a blood test that also checks levels of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and other hormones at mid-cycle. Contrary to popular belief, estrogen is not the only hormone that changes during this transition.
- Pelvic exam -- to check for ovarian and uterine tumors, cysts and cancer. Two new tests that detect or at least verify ovarian cancer are CA 125 (a blood test), and pelvic ultrasound, which helps distinguish between cysts and tumors.
- PAP smears -- to check for cervical, uterine or endometrial cancer.
- Bone density test -- to check for osteoporosis. According to Dr. John Lee, an option is to keep track of your height. If you notice a decrease, quickly consult with your health care practitioner.
- Blood pressure and cholesterol levels -- to check for risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Mammogram -- to check for breast cancer. Read Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book for good detailed information. You can also read the transcripts of Dr. Susan Love's visits to Power Surge.
- Breast Self-Exam -- at the same time each month, examine your breasts to learn what is normal for you. This helps you to notice any changes. Early detection of breast cancer is important for one's survival. See your health care practitioner immediately if you notice changes.
It is important to establish a baseline (a first test with which to compare future tests, to decide if there is a change) at age 35. In the past, when women experienced signs of menopause, they were often prescribed valium for hot flashes, or a tranquilizer for depression.
According to some current research, ERT (Estrogen Replacement Therapy) can reduce hot flashes and mood swings. And more importantly, it may protect us against osteoporosis and heart disease. Physicians prescribe HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) if a woman still has a uterus to protect her against endometrial cancer. The objective is to replicate our natural cycle.
The following are questions you should discuss with your health care practitioner:
Some women swear by ERT or HRT. One woman was amazed how quickly her hot sweats, swollen breasts and mood swings went away as soon as she started on HRT. Another woman, who had been depressed for five years, immediately felt better when she started on HRT. Some women react negatively to synthetic ERT and HRT, but find that natural alternatives work for them. Many women use a combination. Whatever you do, do something! This transition can be pleasant and empowering by "taking charge of your changes."
There are more than a dozen members of the estrogen family. Two of the major types of estrogen are estradiol and estriol. Each type of estrogen has different effects. This is important to know if you choose ERT or HRT. For example, estradiol directly effects the breasts and there may be a link between an abundance of estradiol and breast cancer prior to menopause. Estriol is most active on the vagina, cervix and vulva. So if you have vaginal dryness during this time, this may be the type of estrogen you need. It is important to keep track of your change, so you can get the correct treatment for your particular signs.
Alternatives -- Additional information in the recommendations area
You may want to investigate alternatives or more natural approaches such as:
- Homeopathy (mini-doses of herbs and plants to relieve various signs)
- Herbs and vitamins
- Chinese herbs/medicine
- Acupuncture (a trained acupuncturist places small needles into the specific areas of your body that help regulate the energy flow).
A few examples of the use of vitamins and herbs are:
- Vitamin E -- regulates hot flashes and helps with sexual desire.
- Dong Quai -- a Chinese herbal remedy, contains a natural form of estrogen.
- Mexican wild yam root -- contains a natural form of DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), called the "Mother hormone" by some people because it converts to the hormones your body needs, be it estrogen, progesterone or testosterone.
- Ginseng root -- balances internal temperature, builds energy levels and regulates blood pressure.
- Cinnamon -- helps with spotting and relieves cramps.
- Dandelion greens -- a great source of iron and helps eliminate gas.
There is more to consider than just ERT, HRT, herbs or vitamins. Often the negative signs of menopause can be alleviated just by a change in diet, or by taking nutritional supplements. Some signs of menopause may be the result of the lack of sleep or sleep interruption. Stress aggravates the signs of menopause. How you feel about yourself can affect your health.
To find out what to know about and what questions to ask of your healthcare provider, be sure to read Selecting A Healthcare Practitioner.
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