is it menopause yet?

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IF YOUR HOT FLASHES and sleepless nights aren't enough to send you to the doctor, a new over-the-counter menopause test may change your mind. Synova Healthcare's Menocheck works much like a home pregnancy test: You pee on a plastic wand and wait 5 minutes to find out where you stand. (A second test is needed a week later to confirm the result; one $19.99 package contains two tests.)

Menocheck measures your follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which tells your ovaries to produce estrogen. As you age, estrogen production declines. In response, your body may crank up FSH levels to compensate-which can be a sign of menopause.

Jim Shwayder, M.D., associate director of obstetrics and gynecology at Denver Health Medical Center, says the test could be useful for women uncertain about their menopausal status. The developers believe it might spur women to start thinking seriously about the risks of heart disease and osteoporosis, which rise during menopause.

Wulf Utian, Ph.D., executive director of the North American Menopause Society, thinks the test could be helpful for women under 40 who miss several periods in a row and want to know why. But he cautions that high FSH isn't a clear-cut sign of menopause because hormone levels can fluctuate. "If a woman starts missing periods and getting hot flashes," he adds, "why take an over-the-counter test that confirms what she already knows?"

Perhaps because she's much less certain than Utian thinks. A 2003 survey commissioned by the National Consumers League showed roughly a third of women either don't talk with their doctors about menopausal symptoms or feel their doctors trivialize their symptoms when they do bring them up.

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By Beth Dreher

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