New Test May Help Identify Timeline for Menopause for Next Generation of Women

Patient Expert

Many women from my generation focused on building careers instead of a family through their 20s and 30s, and into their early 40s. At some point, the ticking of many of their biological clocks got louder, making these women suddenly worry about whether they could still get pregnant. In an ideal world, doctors would have had a medical method to determine how long before each individual woman started menopause and, thus, what the fertility level would be as they aged. (The average age of menopause is 51. Although ovulation in most women stops between the ages of 40-60, cases have been identified when ovulation stops prior to the age of 40 and later than 60.)

This type of tailored information would enable individual women to make appropriate plans about the direction their lives would take. Instead, many women found that their fertility ran out before they realized what was happening, thus ending the opportunity of becoming pregnant.

Now Kate Kelland of Reuters News Service has reported the development of a blood test that can predict when women will reach menopause. The test, which was developed by a research team from the Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences in Tehran, Iran, measures the levels of anti-Mullerian hormone (AMH) produced by cells in the ovaries. This test, according to researchers, predicted the age at which women reached menopause to within an average of four months. The study was presented at a conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology. Sixty-four women reached menopause during the study, which went on for 12 years. The researchers believe that their findings indicate that a low AMH level may mean a woman will reach menopause earlier.

However, it may take a while before your doctor has access to this test. In a commentary in the U.S. News and World Report, Deborah Kotz   wrote that other experts believe the menopause test is at least three or four years away from being used in clinical practice. "That's partly because of some uncertainty in determining standard levels of this hormone and whether these levels vary from woman to woman," Kotz wrote. For example, no one knows yet whether levels of AMH differ among racial and ethnic populations. Perhaps a low level in an Iranian woman is in the normal range for an African-American. Previous studies have also shown that obese women tend to have lower levels than women of normal weight, though they may not go into menopause any earlier."

I agree with Kotz that additional testing needs to happen before this blood test is made available to the overall population. However, I am excited about the promise this test may offer to younger generations of women who may be able to make an informed decision about their life choices involving children and career. It's the type of informed choice that many in my generation wish they had been able to make.