By measuring levels of a certain hormone in the ovaries, Iranian scientists say they have developed a simple blood test that accurately predicts the age at which a woman will enter menopause, according to new research presented June 28, 2010, before the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Rome.
This potentially powerful new family planning tool measures a substance called anti-Mullerian hormone, which is produced by cells in ovarian follicles and controls the development of those follicles. In the study, blood samples were taken three times from 266 women ages 20 to 49, and concentrations of the hormone were tested. Levels of the hormone fall gradually as women reach menopause; by comparing levels to women in menopause, scientists were able to pinpoint where each woman was on the trajectory towards menopause. As the Los Angeles Times reports, on average, the difference between the predicted age of menopause and the actual age at which a woman entered menopause was only off by four months.
"The results from our study could enable us to make a more realistic assessment of women's reproductive status many years before they reach menopause ... We believe that our estimates of ages at menopause ... are of sufficient validity to guide medical practitioners in their day-to-day practice, so that they can help women with their family planning," says Dr. Fahimeh Ramezani Tehrani, co-author of the study, in a news release.
Considering conception in your late 30s or 40s? Although the average age for entering menopause is 51, an important tool for figuring out your own fertility lifecycle is to look at other women in your family. Studies show that a woman is likely to enter menopause at the same age as her mother did—in other words, if your mother's menopause was early, yours may be, too.