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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 October 2005, 11:03 GMT 12:03 UK
'Fertility clock' test for women
Image of a mother with her baby
The tests helps a woman gauge her future fertility
A test is being launched in January which should be able to predict how many viable eggs a woman has left.

Doctors and chemists are expected to offer the test which measures levels of three hormones in the blood to spot when menopause is imminent.

The kit, developed by Professor Bill Ledger of Sheffield University, is being made by Biofusion Plc.

Experts praised the test but warned women that other factors could also hamper fertility.

Fertility check

Clare Brown, chief executive of Infertility Network UK said: "This is obviously a good method of giving a women an indication of their current fertility in terms of how many viable eggs they have left.

"It is important to recognise however, that ovarian reserve is not the only aspect of a woman's fertility which may have an effect on whether or not she is able to conceive.

"Indeed there are many other factors which can affect conception. While recognising this is a valuable test, we would urge caution in taking any one single factor as an indication of present or future fertility."

The test, which may also be available by mail order at a yet to be decided cost, measures the levels of three hormones. Two, produced by the ovaries, go down as the menopause nears, while the other, released by the brain, increases.

By analysing the different levels over time it should be possible to plot how close to the menopause a woman is.

Running out of time

It is helpful for women to know how much fertile time they have left, particularly because more and more are leaving it later to start a family, which experts warn could lead to many being disappointed because they have left it too late.

Women have a fixed number of eggs which declines as they age.

According to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, a woman is half as fertile at 35 as she is at 25, and half as fertile again at 40.

On average, a woman will go through the menopause aged around 50, but it can happen as early as 42 and as late as 58.

Professor Ledger said pilot studies had been a success and that several women had changed their plans and decided to try for a baby earlier based on the test results.

However, he stressed that the test would not alter the fact that the quality of eggs decline with age, increasing the risk of conditions such as Down's syndrome, and that older mothers are also at greater risk of complications such as miscarriage.

Other factors, such as their partner's health is also important, he said.

Mr David Sturdee, a spokesman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: "It's a common concern. Some women are leaving it too late to start a family. One never knows who is going to be struck by an early menopause.

"A test like this could be helpful, not just from a fertility point of view but also for older women who are having menstrual problems such as heavy periods and are thinking about whether to have a hysterectomy or wait for the menopause."

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