Test exists to check for menopause

Doctors caution that results might cause confusion

Health & Fitness

December 21, 2003|By Jane E. Allen | Jane E. Allen,Los Angeles Times

Women who've missed several periods and wonder whether they're nearing menopause now can turn to an at-home test -- but the results may not be as conclusive as a visit to the doctor.

A new test, called Meno-check, measures the level of follicle-stimulating hormone, a hormone that rises as a woman's body approaches the cessation of fertility.

Although other meno-pause-detection tests are sold through the Internet, Menocheck is the first retail test approved by the Food and Drug Administration for home use. Such FSH tests work like a pregnancy test: A woman checks her urine first thing in the morning using the absorbent tip of a special wand that also has an indicator panel. After five minutes, she should see a positive or negative result for high levels of the hormone. She repeats the test five to seven days later.

Increased or surging FSH levels are typical during the one to 10 years of perimenopause, the hormonal and physical changes leading to menopause. Two positive readings in a row suggest a woman is either in late perimenopause or has reached menopause (12 months without a full menstrual cycle), said Dr. Laura Corio, a menopause specialist and product spokeswoman.

But some doctors say such tests could create more anxiety than they alleviate, and keep some women away from proper care.

"It's going to lead to nothing but confusion," said Dr. Wulf Utian, executive director of the North American Menopause Society. FSH levels typically fluctuate for six or seven years so women could get a couple of positive Menocheck readings without having reached menopause. They could also be stumped by one positive and one negative reading.

"If you're 45 to 55 and are missing periods and have irregular cycles, that's the message to go along and get yourself the appropriate checkup," said Utian, a reproductive endocrinologist at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.

The FSH level is only one piece of a puzzle that should be solved with a full medical and menstrual history, along with measurements of other hormones, said Dr. Karen S. Kornreich, a gynecologist in Beverly Hills, Calif. FSH can rise when a woman ovulates, or surge one month and later return to normal, she said."People are going to self-diagnose, and that's the problem. There are opportunities for it to be misused."

But Corio, a faculty member at New York University School of Medicine and Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, and the test manufacturer say women with positive test results should consult their doctors, who may be able to provide relief from meno-pausal symptoms. The test could encourage women to discuss menopause with a doctor, rather than "just accepting the fact that this is going to happen to them," Corio said.

The $19.99 kit from Synova Healthcare Inc. of Media, Pa., contains two single-use tests. It's available at Walgreens, but will be sold by other stores starting in mid-January.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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