Period tracking apps and other fertility related programs for mobile phones and tablets aren’t always accurate, according to a study published in April 2020 by the BMJ of Sexual and Reproductive Health. This could have implications for anyone using these apps to either get pregnant or as contraception.

It’s estimated that apps to help track reproductive cycles have been downloaded more than 200 million times. They are often accessible, easy to use and inexpensive. However, critics point out that they can vary in accuracy. Tracking the menstrual cycle accurately for example, relies on self-reporting several factors. Some apps only require minimal details, such as the date of the last period. This can lead to the fertile period of the cycle being accurately calculated, leading to either an unwanted pregnancy, or a missed window of opportunity to become pregnant. 

Lack of detailed information

The study showed that only around 9-20% of the apps studied gave truly accurate information. Many of the apps provided a simple calculation based on limited information, and were not developed with any specialist or medical input. 

Does this mean women shouldn’t use apps to control their reproductive health? Apps are fine in principle – they’re convenient and accessible, and allow women to understand their reproductive cycle. Some women don’t have access to other forms of contraception & it can help to have an app to keep track of their fertility. However, not all apps are created equally.

It’s best to opt for an approved app, such as Natural Cycles, which was approved by the FDA. Despite this high-profile clearance, there is still a risk of the app being inaccurate & causing either unwanted pregnancies or wasted windows of fertility. 

It’s also wise to remember that an app is only as good as the information entered into it. Being diligent and consistent with details such as temperature and other factors, will help the app to build a more accurate picture of your cycle. Factors such as early ovulation cannot always be predicted by an app. Finally, an app is not a replacement for a consultation with a doctor, and shouldn’t be used in place of medical advice.

Photo by Laura Chouette on Unsplash

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