For decades—or centuries—the best way for a woman to determine whether she was entering menopause was to pay attention to her body and discuss her symptoms with her doctor.
Menopause is when a woman stops having periods and can no longer become pregnant. It’s caused by a drop in hormones (estrogen and progesterone) and it usually occurs in a woman’s late forties. Sometimes the transition is obvious, and sometimes it’s not.
Symptoms of menopause are rather predictable, but the experience may be different for each woman. For example, irregular periods can be a sign of perimenopause, the stage before menopause that lasts an average of four years, but this isn’t particularly helpful for women who’ve always had irregular periods.
A new test is trying to make that determination less hazy, and it just received approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The test works by measuring the level of Anti-Müllerian Hormone (AMH) in the blood. AMH is frequently used to determine a woman’s “ovarian reserve,” which is the ability of the ovary to continue producing eggs.
AMH levels increase for girls from birth until age 25, and then they slowly decrease until they are nearly undetectable during postmenopause. In other words, low levels of AMH could determine the time of menopause.
The test doesn’t just help alleviate a woman’s curiosity: The hormonal shift that happens during menopause has a direct effect on women’s health. The risk of various health conditions—stroke, high cholesterol, heart disease, and bone fractures—all increase after menopause, according to the U.S. Office on Women’s Health.
Upon menopause, women may have to make a few lifestyle changes to reduce their risk of different conditions. For example, strength training to reduce bone loss may be especially helpful during this time.
Although the new FDA-approved test has advanced doctor’s ability to determine a woman’s menopause status, the test should still be used alongside other measurements. Discussing your symptoms with your doctor and tracking your periods can help rule out other causes of bodily changes, such as endometrial cancer.
Get more info on finding your best health before, during, and after menopause: