Smartphone apps are widely used by many women nationwide to plan or avoid getting pregnant, but a new study shows that relying on those digital tools is not helpful. A research team from Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington D.C. found that fertility apps are not likely to be effective.

Given that an increasing number of women who are of reproductive age are currently using these types of applications, the researchers reviewed around 100 smartphone fertility apps used in the United States. A recent survey found that more than 50 percent of smartphone users in the U.S. had downloaded such apps, Medical News Today reported.

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Lead author of the study Dr. Marguerite Duane said that these women usually approach a fertility awareness-based method (FABM) as an attempt to control when they want to avoid getting pregnant or plan to have a baby. Interestingly, among apps that did not provide accurate data to predict fertile days, only those requiring users to undergo training in an FABM before use achieved a high accuracy.

“The effectiveness of fertility awareness-based methods depends on women observing and recording fertility biomarkers and following evidence-based guidelines. Apps offer a convenient way to track fertility biomarkers, but only some employ evidence-based FABMs,” said Dr. Marguerite Duane, as quoted by Medical News Today.

She advised women who wish to take effectively benefit from smartphone apps to learn from a trained educator before looking for an app that reached four or more on mean accuracy and authority in her team’s review.

The study

For the study, which is set to be published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, the research team identified more than 95 fertility apps currently available through iTunes, Google, or Google Play. They found that only 30 of the apps accurately reviewed fertile days. The study authors applied a five-point rating system, and ten criteria considered crucial in avoiding pregnancy.

At least 55 of these apps had a disclaimer arguing that they were not designed to help women avoid pregnancy, the researchers found. Only six apps showed perfect accuracy without any false negatives. These fertility apps supposedly help monitor a lady’s menstrual cycle by pointing out the ovulation days and the exact time when the odds of getting pregnant are the highest or the time when they should be careful not to achieve pregnancy at all.

Other apps also help women track their cervical mucus, whose presence occurs in the menstrual cycle when a woman is at her most fertile time, according to a report by The Independent.

The smartphone applications also track a woman’s BBT or Basal body temperature when her body is at rest. The apps point out the fertility dates by using this data, but The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says that the BBT tends to increase after 2 or 3 days following the ovulation date, which is why the body temperature should not be used to direct the time of a woman’s pregnancy.

The ACOG says that fertility awareness is about “knowing and recognizing when the fertile time (when a woman can get pregnant) occurs in the menstrual cycle,” according to The Independent.

iCycleBeads, one of the apps involved in the review, is based on a patented system owned by Georgetown University. It has been licensed to Cycle Technologies, according to the FACTS website.

The apps excluded from the study either did not claim to use an evidence-based FABM or had at least a disclaimer prohibiting use for women wishing to avoid pregnancy.

The first study to prove the effectiveness of a fertility app

A separate research team at Georgetown University Medical Center’s Institute for Reproductive Health (IRH) is recruiting 1,200 women for a real-time study focused on Dot™, (Dynamic Optimal Timing™). That is a smartphone application that estimates the chances a woman has to get pregnant on a daily basis, according to a report by the center’s website.

Volunteers in the United States, who are currently using Dot, can be part of the study. Rebecca Simmons, MPH, a senior research officer at IRH, said the researchers want to test how effective the app is as a method to avoid pregnancy in a real-time situation.

The app, which is increasingly being used worldwide, was designed based on findings from a series of published studies, as only a few such available apps are. The researchers conducted an analysis and determined that the app would be 96-98 percent in women if they give it the right use and the accuracy of Dot increases the more it is used, as Cycle Technologies note on its homepage.

Source: Medical News Today