A blood test can be used to predict when a woman will hit the menopause two years before it happens, scientists have said.
Researchers in the US have developed a method to determine when the final menstrual period will occur by measuring levels of a hormone in the blood known as the anti-Mullerian hormone (AMH). They said the test is sensitive enough to detect very low levels of AMH that happen in the year or two leading up to menopause.
Dr Nanette Santoro, of the University of Colorado Medical School, and one of the study authors, said: “Establishing a way to measure time to the final menstrual period has long been the holy grail of menopause research.
“Using bleeding patterns or previously available tests to predict the time to menopause can only help us narrow the window to a four-year period, which is not clinically useful. Women can make better medical decisions with the more complete information offered by new, more sensitive anti-Mullerian hormone measurements.”
Women are born with with all the eggs they will ever have and the supply decreases as menopause approaches. AMH is produced in the ovaries and controls the development of ovarian follicles from which eggs develop.
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According to the researchers, AMH can serve as an indicator of how many eggs a woman has left. For example, a low AMH level in a woman who is more than 48 years old suggests that menopause is approaching.
The team analysed blood tests conducted on 1,537 women between the ages of 42 and 63 in the US as part of ongoing research known as the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (Swan). They monitored changes in the women’s health as they went through the menopausal transition.
According to the researchers, the findings indicated it is possible to predict the onset of menopause within 12 to 24 months, in women in their late 40s and early 50s.
Dr Joel S Finkelstein, of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, also one of the study authors, said: “Researchers have long thought AMH would be a superior marker of the time to menopause, but tests haven’t been sensitive enough to detect the very, very low levels that occur in the year or two leading up to menopause.
“It took a cohort like the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation, which followed the same women year after year from well before menopause until well after, to get the kind of data necessary to be able to demonstrate the predictive value of AMH.”
The research is published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
Reader Q&A: Do other mammals go through the menopause?
Asked by: Louise Sanders, Sheffield
Humans, killer whales and pilot whales are the only mammals that experience menopause. We all share a relatively long lifespan that involves mothers living in close quarters with their daughters.
It is thought that the older females have therefore evolved to forfeit their ability to reproduce so that they can use their time and energy to nurture their daughters’ offspring, as they are more likely to survive than the ageing female’s young. This is known as the ‘grandmother hypothesis’. Also, grandmothers do not want to compete for vital resources, such as food – another good reason to evolve a menopausal strategy.