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Should You Be Using a Fertility App?
Are fertility apps viable options for tracking fertility? A new study compares fertility app data to previously recorded data.
December 20, 2019
If you are a woman wanting to assess her menstrual health and fertility, the most common method used to be frequent visits to the gynecologist or another clinician. But in this new age of technology, more women are turning instead to fertility apps available on smartphones. Are these apps just as -- or perhaps even more -- effective than trips to the gynecologist? A new study answers our questions about these fertility apps.
This article covers:
What are these apps and the questions we have about them
How the study was set-up
Result of the study
What the results of the study mean for you
The Apps and the Questions
The popularity of fertility awareness method (FAM) apps is illustrated in the plethora available to the public. The apps track menstrual cycles, and ask users to record information such as cervical fluid, body temperature at wake-up, and other biological signs. Some apps, such as Sympto and Kindara (which are used in the study), support the "Sympto-Thermal Method." These apps help identify the fertile and infertile times of a woman's menstrual cycle.
We know what the apps’ general functions are now, but how effective are these apps? How much are users actually tracking? Are the apps helpful to users and their gynecologists? These questions for so long have been unanswered because there has been no study done comparing accuracy of visits to fertility apps. Until now.
Set-Up of the Study
Laura Symul at EPFL’s Digital Epidemiology Lab joined Stanford University to research the topic. The study had two aims: first to observe how and what users voluntarily record through the FAM apps. Second, to discover if a user’s recordings accurately detect and estimate ovulation timing.
It was a large-scale study involving two FAM apps, Sympto and Kindara. The study involved tracking more than 30 million days of observations. Within this window of observation, 200,000 users altogether recorded over 2.7 million menstrual cycles.
Results of the Study
Looking at the results of demographics first, the study found that the typical user to be is around 30 years old, lives in a western country (Europe or North America), and has a healthy BMI. As for usual behavior, users are more likely to record their observations frequently if they also log sexual intercourse. Records made on the apps are similar to those made my small clinical studies.
The study discovered women seeking pregnancy record Sympto-Thermal measurements every single day for up to 40% of their menstrual cycles. The scientists modeled the data to compare with previously reported data, to determine the fertility apps’ accurateness. The data was split between the two phases of the menstrual cycle.
The first of the phases is called the follicular phase, which begins the menstrual cycles and ends at ovulation. Data collected from the fertility apps of the duration and range of this phase was larger than previously reported data. The modeling showed only 24% of ovulations occur at days 14 or 15 of the cycle.
The second and the latter phase of the menstrual cycle is called the luteal phase. The data from the fertility app about the duration and range of this phase matched the data previously reported.
What This Means For Us
The result of the study shows fertility apps may revolutionize the study of menstrual health and its connection to a woman’s overall health, which historically had been greatly under-studied. Fertility apps are an affordable approach to collecting data, which can lead to deeper studies of the menstrual cycle.
Recording your menstrual cycles on a fertility app in the end can be very beneficial. If not for the results given by the app, then for the well-documented data that can then be shared with your doctor. Having digital records can make sharing information easy and accurate during your doctor visits. You can compare your app records to the doctor’s statistics.
Overall self-tracking provides a range of new possibilities in the health industry. It’s changing how we perceive our bodies and health. What users are tracking is usually aligned with what’s to be expected. Voluntary self-tracking is providing valuable information for inferring health conditions of women, such as hormonal changes and timing of ovulation.
Fertility apps are going to vary in effectiveness, depending on how much recording you do, and how you use that information. In general fertility apps help you keep detailed and accurate accounts that can be useful, especially when looked over by professionals. So why not download a new app?
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