Menopause Test Won't Solve The Fertility Puzzle

A new blood test that could accurately predict when women will enter menopause may offer new information — but it's not going to solve all of women's family-planning problems.

According to the Guardian, the test, developed by Dr. Fahimeh Ramezani Tehrani and colleagues at Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences in Tehran, can predict the start of menopause within four months by measuring a compound called anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH) in women's blood. Tehrani's study involved only 266 women, 63 of whom entered menopause during it, and Razib Khan of Discover's Gene Expressions blog says, "The standard objection to sample size will naturally be brought forth, but if it's a valid diagnostic I assume it'll get popular really quickly." Scientists concur that more research is needed, but many are optimistic about the test's usefulness — says Dr. Dagan Wells of Oxford,

Where this test might be particularly useful, even if it's not super-accurate, could be where women are unaware they might experience a very premature menopause. It could give them a heads-up.

For the 1% of women who hit menopause before 40, and the 5-10% who start before 45, the test could indeed provide helpful info — although they'd need to be tested early, since fertility starts declining well before menopause. At best, knowing their AMH levels could provide women with an additional decision-making tool when making reproductive decisions — at worst, as commenter blameitonrio noted, it could just stress them out. The AP quotes William Ledger, a fertility expert at the University of Sheffield, who says the test "could be immensely useful to young women who are making choices about whether to work or have a family." But for lots of young women, these decisions are way more complicated than measuring rungs on the corporate ladder against remaining years of baby-making potential. For a lot of women, starting a family involves finding the right partner, and knowing how far they are from menopause isn't going to help with that.

In her smart response to the study in the Guardian, Zoe Williams points out, "Even assuming it is the woman delaying pregnancy – and that's a huge 'if', the trope of a career girl, putting it off while she buys more shoes, is a fiction." The idea that if women only knew exactly when menopause was coming, they'd quit dilly-dallying and close the supposed "baby gap" — the difference between the number of babies women want in their 20s and the number they have by 45 — is pretty ridiculous. Having kids depends not just on fertility, but on relationships, life situations, money, and general health, and none of these are completely within women's control. So whereas a test for menopause may indeed help some women, it's not going to make the difficult process of planning a family magically easy — as Williams notes, "the factors influencing the decision are so much more complicated than simple ignorance."

Menopause Test Could Close The Baby Gap [Guardian]
Menopause Test: Not Just A Women's Issue [Guardian]
Tick-Tock Biological Clock [Discover Gene Expressions Blog]
Scientists Say Test Could Predict Menopause [AP, via Yahoo News]
A Test To Predict Menopause? [Time]

Earlier: Onset Of Menopause May Be Predicted By Blood Test