3 Aug 2021

Some menstrual tracking app predictions not accurate, new research suggests

7:47 pm on 3 August 2021

Thousands of people may be receiving inaccurate health and fertility advice from menstrual tracking apps, new research suggests.

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Photo: Jae Park/ Unsplash

Initial research has shown the predictions some tracking apps provide for ovulation has not been accurate enough, and concerns have been raised regarding some apps claiming to pre-diagnose conditions.

The popularity of these fertility and menstruation tracking apps has skyrocketed in recent years, and are often used by people trying to conceive, or trying to avoid pregnancy.

Dr Bryndl Hohmann-Marriott , a sociologist from Otago University, said people need to know the risks, especially as the apps aren't made by medical professionals.

"Some of these apps are collecting heaps of data about all different aspects of some really personal parts of peoples lives. But no apps were designed with medical professionals."

Bryndl Hohmann-Marriott found in initial research that ovulation cycle predictions from some apps were not precise, and therefore not sufficient for those trying to conceive or avoid pregnancy.

She has been granted $30,000 Health Research Council Grant to investigate the accuracy of these apps and the suitability of clinical advice.

Hohmann-Marriott is particularly concerned with the apps that are now claiming to be able to pre-diagnose conditions, such as endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

"Things like endometriosis and PCOS take such a long time to diagnose that it's so important to get information out there. But on the flip side, you really don't want to be telling half of all the people using your app 'yeah you have PCOS' if you're using these really vague symptoms."

Dr Andrew Murray, the Wellington medical director of Fertility Associates, said he had noticed a dramatic change in the ways his clients tracked their ovulation.

He said almost all of his clients now used a menstruation-tracking app.

"I do think they have a place, at least initially, to give women an understanding of what's happening with their cycle.

"But they are not a tool that's going to increase their chances of ending up with a baby. I don't think any paper has ever been published to demonstrate that."

If the apps are inaccurate, they could be putting those trying to get pregnant at risk of setbacks.

Murray said these setbacks are what breaks his heart.

"I think, 'gosh, if only I'd seen you a year or two ago - you might have been pregnant by now.'"

The research Hohmann-Marriott is conducting will initiate the Menstrual Health Technologies Aotearoa programme, which aims to develop guidelines and tools for using health technologies.

"Our ultimate goal is to provide practical guidelines and tools about how to use health technologies for those seeking to understand reproductive health issues," she said.

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