A New Screening Test Can Help You Predict Your Fertility in the Future
Even if you're not looking to start a family now, you'd probably like to know that your odds of getting pregnant later in life are good.
But previously, unless you had a magic crystal ball, that was fairly impossible to tell. A new screening, however, is changing that. Available in select states starting today, a diagnostic screen called What's My Fertility?, developed by Norbert Gleicher, M.D., medical director and chief scientist of the Center for Human Reproduction, can assess how your ovaries are aging. It measures the risk of premature ovarian aging (POA), which impacts the fertility of 10 percent of women.
A little biology recap: Women are born with all of their eggs, and gradually lose them as they get older.
"The number of eggs that are left in a woman's ovaries at a given time defines her ovarian age," Dr. Gleicher told Glamour. "For 90 percent of women, their egg counts follow an expected curve as they age. But for 10 percent of women — independent of race, background, or what they eat or drink — their egg counts don't follow that curve pattern, and their ovaries age prematurely." For those 10 percent of women, delaying kids may result in struggles with infertility.
"This is the group of women our screening is addressing," said Dr. Gleicher. "Fertility centers like ours see an exploding patient population in this category, and since they usually present to us very late — in their mid- to late 30s or 40s — there are limited options we can offer them. The best case is that they go into IVF quickly; the worst case is that they are unable to have biological children." With the new screening, available to women 18 to 35, women may get a diagnosis of POA earlier and be armed with that knowledge as they plan their lives.
The number of women with POA has not changed over the years, but the age at which women begin having babies has gone up, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you knew, though, that you were at risk of POA, you might choose to start a family sooner, or perhaps freeze your eggs for later use.
"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," Dr. Gleicher said.
The screening, which costs $98 plus lab costs, involves a medical questionnaire and a blood draw that tests three things: the FMR1 gene, which may regulate how a woman’s ovarian function changes over time; follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), which has a role in the maturation of eggs (if FSH levels are high that's an indicator of declining ovarian reserves or how many eggs a woman has left); and anti-muellerian hormone (AMH), another indicator of a woman's ovarian reserves. The screen is now available online through What's My Fertility? for women in these states: California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia. To receive it, you register online, fill out the questionnaire, and then go to a local lab to have blood drawn. If you are at increased risk for POA, you will be advised of your options, which may include regular monitoring.
If you're not living in a state where the test is currently licensed, you can still go to your ob-gyn or primary care doctor and ask her to access these screenings for you.
"Our plan is to offer this program for free to the general ob-gyn community and primary care doctors in every state so that it may eventually become part of routine screening for young women," Dr. Gleicher said. "If we can advance the first diagnosis of POA from the late 30s to the mid- to late 20s, there will be a huge outcome difference because women will have the chance to do something about it; they'll be able to make informed decisions earlier in life that will help them avoid the emotional and hefty costs of later infertility treatments."
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