Iranian scientists have been working on a method to develop a way of using a very simple blood test to predict when women will reach the menopause. This will help offer chances for women to plan for family and career far in advance.
The finding was delivered by Dr. Fahimeh Ramezani Tehrani at the 26th annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Rome. She stated that her findings means that women will be able to discover early on in their reproductive life what their expected age at menopause will be, so that they can plan when to start a family.
The study included taking blood samples from 266 women, aged 20-49, who had been enrolled in the much larger Tehran Lipid and Glucose Study. Dr. Ramezani Tehrani and herteam of researchers measured the concentrations of a hormone that is produced by cells in women’s ovaries called anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH).
AMH controls the development of follicles in the ovaries, from which oocytes (eggs) develop and could be used for measuring ovarian function. In addition, the researchers took two further blood samples at three yearly intervals, and they also collected information on the women’s socioeconomic background and reproductive history.
"The results could enable us to make a more realistic assessment of women's reproductive status many years before they reach menopause," said Ramezani Tehrani of the Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences in Tehran, who led the study.
Top experts agreed this is promising, but said its findings would need to be confirmed in larger trials.
"The possibility of an accurate predictor for menopause is very exciting. People have been looking for something like this for years," said Dagan Wells of the Nuffield Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Oxford University.
"I'm not sure that this would help with family planning decisions [although] it's a very interesting first, small, observational study," says Dr. Steven Goldstein, M.D., president-elect of the North American Menopause Society. "It would be helpful to do a larger trial and see if it pans out and, if so, to what degree of accuracy."
Menopause is defined as a woman's last menstrual period and is confirmed after a full year without periods. As such, it can be recognized only in hindsight. "It has to be a retrospective diagnosis because you never know that period you just had is going to be the last one you'll ever have," Goldstein explains.
The test might, however, help with making other types of medical decisions, Goldstein says. "If it were really reliable, it could be helpful in counseling patients in decisions regarding hysterectomies," he says.