FSH Levels and Menopause: What Does it Mean?

Hormones - They All Have a Purpose

Expert's Name: Gail Edgell

I really can't say that there is a simple way to describe follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). FSH and LH (luteinizing hormone) are produced by the pituitary gland on a cyclical basis. FSH is a messenger traveling from one organ to act on another part of the body, in this case, the ovaries. Within the ovaries are small sacs called follicles that contain eggs and the hormone estrogen. Stimulation from FSH causes one of the follicles to grow and as it does estrogen is released.

As estrogen circulates in the body it tells the body to secrete the second hormone, LH. By this time the egg is mature and ready to burst from the follicle which is called ovulation.

During perimenopause, the pituitary continues to release FSH and LH, but the ovaries sometimes fail to respond by releasing an egg. When a woman reaches menopause the ovaries stop responding all together. This creates a "back up" of FSH and LH in the body. These hormones will remain elevated in the body for the rest of a woman's life.

So how do they test for FSH and LH levels? The most common ways are blood or saliva testing. However, there is a problem with this testing. It does not tell you anything about estrogen levels. Also, FSH levels can vary greatly in perimenopausal years. Remember, during perimenopause an egg may be released one month and the next month it may cause a "back up" of FSH levels. It is possible for a woman's FSH levels to reach post-menopausal levels (of greater than 30 IU/1 for blood) while she is still cycling. Meanwhile, LH will most likely remain within normal limits.

Until a woman has not had her period for over a year, her FSH is greater than 30 IU/1 and LH is greater than 40IU/1, it is possible to become pregnant. So it is advised to use birth control.

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