So what if women could take a simple blood test that could tell them, with a fair amount of accuracy, how long they have before menopause sets in?
On The Early Show Saturday Edition, medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton explained that such a "fertility crystal ball" has apparently been found:
It measures levels of AMH, or anti-mullerian hormone, and inhibin-B. They decrease as a woman approaches menopause. So researchers at the University of Michigan looked into whether the levels of the two hormones could accurately predict the timing of a woman's last menstrual period.
They found that levels became very low or virtually undetectable four-to-five years before her final period. So, the test should show when a woman has four-to-five years left to have a child.
"It's not precise," Ashton told co-anchor Erica Hill, "but it does give us a general range."
Some doctors are calling it an excellent predictor, and saying it will become a standard test for women.
And while it could certainly become a vital family-planning tool, it's not all about having babies. There are certain conditions that can be better treated if we know when a woman will enter menopause. For example, fibroids: If you know a woman will be menopausal within, say, two years, you might forego surgery. If she has another 10 years, you might opt for surgery. Also, bone loss.
The test is becoming available at more and more at clinics across the country. Right now, you have to ask your doctor if you'd like to have it done. But it's growing in popularity, and there's even a company working on a version of the AMH detection test that will be directly marketed to women. It would cost about $350. The current cost of the test is $100 to $400. But more insurance companies are covering the test, so check with your obstetrician and insurance company if you have interest in exploring it.
That said, some doctors remain skeptics about the test. A lot of factors go into determining when a woman will begin menopause - factors such as body type, lifestyle, whether she smokes, and when her mother went through menopause.
But researchers say they considered those things in developing the test.
Also, they say the test can't accurately predict the onset of menopause one or two years out, but can say there's a high probability it will occur in four or five years.
So, it's not perfect, but it appears to be a very good predictor.
It's "just one piece of the puzzle; I think it's going to be an important one," and unintended pregnancies do occur up until periods stop but, Ashton told Hill, "Knowledge is power, so I think women are going to like it."
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