New fertility test warns women if they are running out of eggs
Published 22/11/2015 | 12:11
One in 10 women suffer from premature ovarian ageing which can make motherhood impossible if left too late
Women hoping to become mothers can now check if they are at risk of running out eggs prematurely with a new test designed to end the heartache of infertility.
One in 10 women will suffer from a condition called premature ovarian ageing, which means that they have far fewer eggs than normal at any given age.
Unlike men who produce new sperm throughout their lives, women are born with all their eggs but the number depletes over time until there are none left and the menopause begins.
However for women suffering premature ovarian ageing (POA) that process happens much faster so delaying starting a family could ultimately lead to childlessness because by the time they want to become mothers they are already infertile.
The new test, called ‘What’s My Fertility’ has been designed by The Centre for Human Reproduction in New York and looks for hormonal changes and a genetic defect which makes women more at risk.
Women can take it between the ages of 18 and 35 and those who are at high risk would be advised to try for a baby earlier or freeze their eggs to be used with IVF at a later stage.
“After treating infertility in women for decades and hearing them tell us time and time again that they wished they had known of the risk of POA so that they could have planned for a family sooner, we were determined to find a better way to proactively identify POA in young women,” said Dr Norbert Gleicher, Medical Director and Chief Scientist of The Centre for Human Reproduction.
“Screening will empower women with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions earlier in life and will help them avoid the emotional and hefty costs of later infertility treatments.
“This is the first risk screening program for POA that detects future risk of developing POA. Rather than diagnosing women when they already suffer from this condition, What’s My Fertility identifies women who are at risk, so they can prevent this condition from affecting their family plans.”
The test is timely because women are leaving motherhood later than ever. The average age of new mother passed 30 for the first time last year and in September the number of over 35 mothers bypassed the number of those under 25 for the first time.
It involves an online questionnaire about family history and lifestyle followed by three blood tests. Two look for high levels of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and low levels of anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH) which show that fewer eggs are present. The third test checks for a mutation to the FMR1 gene.
It costs around £65 and although testing clinics are in the US, British women can request hormone results from a GP and enter them into the ‘I have my labs’ option. The experts will then work out if they already have POA or are at high risk and offer advice.
British experts said testing could be useful but warned infertility could be caused by a wide range of issues and that hormonal levels were sometimes inaccurate.
Leading fertility expert Professor Charles Kingsland, of Liverpool Women's NHS Foundation Trust said: “This test is topical as it has come at a time when women are thinking about freezing their eggs for social reasons and delaying families.
“However although these tests can be useful you have to treat them with a certain amount of scepticism because hormone tests are not always accurate. AMH levels can give you an indication of how many eggs are there, but can’t tell you if they are healthy.
“It could lead to women making choices they would not have made or even putting off motherhood until it is too late because they think they are not at risk.”
Dr Geoffrey Trew, consultant in Reproductive Medicine and Surgery at Hammersmith Hospital, London, said: “Certainly a home test for the ovarian reserve would be good as a lot of women are either put off by their GPs or they can only get the test privately and have to pay for the consult and the test - which is prohibitive for a lot of people.
“There's always a concern that these tests provoke unnecessary anxiety and medicalise a situation that is 'normal' for that patient. Good information, as with any testing, is essential.”