Doctor appointments can be unnecessarily stressful, especially with all of the added health questions that age and menopause can bring. Luckily, Ellen Dolgen has broken down some of the most common tests and checks that midlife women should be getting done. Read more from Ellen on her blog.
As we get older, it seems like our visits to doctors become more and more frequent. An ache here, a pain there. Truth is, one way to reduce the number of doctor visits in perimenopause and menopause is to actually schedule a few crucial medical tests. That way, you can nip any pending medical conditions in the bud and get on with your, “I’m-not-gonna-let-this-hold-me-back” life.
Please note: This is not intended to be medical advice. Consult your menopause specialist about the best course of action to take, as every women has unique needs.
Did you know that menopause symptoms can mimic those of other conditions? According to the North American Menopause Society, these symptoms are similar to those of thyroid disease, for instance. Depending on your medical history, it may make sense to undergo medical tests to rule out such conditions.
Am I really in menopause?
Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) levels are sometimes measured to confirm menopause. Because these levels vary, you can’t rely on a single test. If, after several tests, your FSH blood level is consistently 30 mIU/mL or higher, and you haven’t had your menstrual period for a year, you’re probably a member of the menopause club. Note: If you’re using certain hormone therapies (such as birth control pills), an FSH test is not valid. Some doctors prefer to test the Anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH) levels instead, because they are not affected by birth-control pills. During menopause, AMH levels are decreased.
If you’re still menstruating, your hormone panel (blood test) should be done during the first three days of your period. It can test for the following hormones:
- DHEAS (DHEA sulfate) – a hormone that easily converts into other hormones, including estrogen and testosterone
- Estradiol– the main type of estrogen produced in the body, secreted by the ovaries. If yours is low it can cause memory lapses, anxiety, depression, uncontrollable bursts of anger, sleeplessness, night sweats and more.
- Testosterone – Free testosterone is unbound and metabolically active, and total testosterone includes both free and bound testosterone. Your ovaries’ production of testosterone maintains a healthy libido, strong bones, muscle mass and mental stability.
- Progesterone– If yours is low it can cause irritability, breast swelling and tenderness, mood swings, “fuzzy thinking,” sleeplessness, water retention, PMS and weight gain.
- TSH(thyroid-stimulating hormone) – If yours is irregular, you may need to have your Total T3 and Free T4 checked as well.
If you’re already in the midst of perimenopause or menopause, here are other important tests to consider:
This test, also called a bone scan or DEXA scan, can reveal whether you have osteopenia or osteoporosis. When you enter perimenopause and menopause, the drop in estrogen can do a number on your bone mass. Don’t worry; the scan is quick and exposes you to very little radiation.
CA-125 (cancer antigen 125) is a protein best known as a blood marker for ovarian cancer. It may be elevated with other malignant cancers, including those originating in the endometrium, fallopian tubes, lungs, breasts and gastrointestinal tract. If your test comes back positive, don’t panic; this test is notorious for producing false positives!
Like your moods, cholesterol levels change in perimenopause and menopause. An excess of cholesterol can build up artery plaque, narrowing blood vessels and potentially causing a heart attack. A cholesterol panel usually includes checking your HDL (high-density lipoprotein or the good cholesterol), LDL (low-density lipoprotein or bad cholesterol) and triglycerides (molecules of fatty acids). You’ll need to fast for 12 hours before this test (a perfect time to step on the scale!).
This vitamin helps maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus, keeping your bones strong.
A friendly reminder
I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you about your monthly breast self-exam and your annual mammogram. You also should schedule an annual checkup with your general physician, and an annual pelvic exam with your gynecologist. And, I hate to tell you, but if you’re 50 or older (45 for African Americans), you need to schedule a colonoscopy, according to the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons.
And don’t forget to floss. Seriously. Regular dental checkups are important, too, as untreated gum infections can lead to more serious health issues. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, people with periodontal (gum) disease are almost twice as likely to have heart disease.
Remember that, when you’re in perimenopause and menopause, it’s important to not only focus on “down there,” but on your body as a whole. That includes your mental and emotional health as well. Now, more than ever, you need to take time to take care of you. So schedule your tests… then schedule a spa appointment.
Suffering in silence is OUT! Reaching out is IN!