Many women wonder what their hormone levels are, and especially with so many private labs offering tests it’s tempting to seek out your “numbers.” But the truth is that hormones are highly complex and function in conjunction with so many other aspects of your biology that any result received from a lab is just a number. It’s a snapshot in time that gives very little practical information and absolutely no guidance to aid in treatment planning.
Here are what values can you have drawn and what they can tell you:
Follicle Stimulating Hormones (FSH)
In simplified terms, the ovaries, in response to FSH from the brain, work tirelessly to produce follicles (cysts) throughout your reproductive life. Ovarian cysts form and subsequently rupture during ovulation monthly. When this happens, they secrete both estrogen and progesterone. As the follicle dies off, estrogen and progesterone levels fall and this signals the uterus to shed its lining and we get a period (yahoo!).
A woman has a limited number of eggs to ovulate throughout her lifespan, and when these run out estrogen and progesterone produced by ovulation declines. The brain continues to send FSH, but the ovaries can no longer respond with cyst formation or hormone production. The main blood marker for having reached menopause is, therefore, an elevated FSH.
Most women, however, have huge fluctuations in this brain hormone for many years prior to actually stopping menses, so testing this level is not as relevant or as important as symptoms and the cessation of a menstrual cycle.
Now that you understand where estrogen comes from and the intricate ways it is related to your ovaries and brain, it’s easier to see why this number can go up and down. There are three types of estrogen: estrone (most active in menopause), estradiol (the main female hormone), and estriol (most active in pregnancy).
Women who are perimenopausal will have massive fluctuation in estradiol. During a month when an egg ovulates, estradiol is relatively normal and does what it’s always done throughout a woman’s reproductive years. However, when the ovary takes a month off, estrogen levels fall, symptoms kick in and women get hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings.
Over the course of the “climacteric,” which can last 10 years, symptoms wax and wane, estrogen levels fluctuate, and women feel really confused by what is happening. While frustrating, the answer is clear to clinicians that this is perimenopause and there are, literally, thousands of women in the US entering this phase of life every single day. The numbers don’t change that fact, and knowing your levels may be interesting but not necessary to get the help you need.
Once menopausal hormone therapy is initiated, these numbers stabilize and, again, knowing the actual number is less important than feeling well. There’s no need to test blood levels, and treatment is titrated to get the best individual results based on symptom relief and specific healthcare goals.
The bottom line is, if you are experiencing perimenopausal or menopausal symptoms, you are entering this stage of your life and no lab values will change that. Just remember that you are not alone, science has your back and you should reach out sooner rather than later for the help you need.
If you’re interested in seeing whether you are a candidate for Evernow’s menopause treatments, click here to start your free online consultation.