For many of us that have spent the majority of our adult lives trying not to get pregnant, it seems that getting pregnant should be easy. Then, once ready for a baby, many of us are surprised (and/or worried) when pregnancy doesn’t happen after the first few cycles. If you’re in that boat, you may be wondering whether at-home fertility tests can help put your mind at ease and answer your questions about why you haven’t conceived yet.
To shed some light on the world of at-home fertility tests, we talked to Dr. Scott Eder, a board-certified OBGYN with over 30 years of experience helping women who are trying to conceive. Read on to learn more about at-home fertility tests, including what they can tell you about your fertility, when they may be appropriate, and what else you can do to monitor your fertility at home.
At-home fertility tests measure different hormones to give you a window into the current state of your fertility. Some of the most common hormones these tests measure include progesterone, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), and anti-mullerian hormone (AMH).
Progesterone tests are taken during the second half of the menstrual cycle to determine if you ovulated. Dr. Eder explains, “After you release an egg during ovulation, the remaining follicle becomes a corpus luteum. The corpus luteum starts releasing progesterone, and that only happens after ovulation occurs.”
FSH and AMH, on the other hand, are used as a marker for ovarian reserve. “You are born with a finite number of eggs, and that number decreases as you get older,” says Dr. Eder. “As that number gets smaller, your body produces more FSH each cycle to stimulate ovulation. So, high levels of FSH may indicate a lower ovarian reserve.”
AMH is the opposite, he notes, “AMH is used to estimate the number of follicles left in the ovaries. This number declines with age. So, as you get older and your number of eggs decreases, your AMH values also decline.”
If you’re approaching menopause, you would expect to see elevated FSH and decreased AMH. However, those kinds of results may indicate potential fertility problems for someone in their twenties or early thirties.
LH tests are also called ovulation predictor kits, and they’re significantly more common than other at-home fertility tests. These kits test for the surge in LH that happens around 24 hours before you ovulate, and they’re a tool to help couples time sex when trying to conceive.
Dr. Eder notes that there are also at-home tests that can measure a specific protein in semen to provide you with a rough idea of your partner’s sperm count. While testing in the comfort of your own home can certainly have an advantage over going to a clinic, a sperm count alone won’t tell you much about your partner’s fertility.
Your partner’s sperm motility and morphology (or shape) are just as important as their sperm count, and at-home tests still currently fall short in measuring these characteristics. For example, it’s possible to have a high sperm count but for many sperm to be dead or misshapen, which could significantly decrease the likelihood of conceiving.
When you’re trying to conceive, you want to know as much about your fertility as possible. At-home fertility tests may seem like an affordable way to learn about any hormonal issues that may be affecting your chances of getting pregnant. However, Dr. Eder warns that these tests are limited in their usefulness.
While OPKs may help you plan when to have sex to maximize your odds of getting pregnant each cycle, other hormone tests may not be as helpful. At-home hormone tests can only tell you what your hormone levels were at a specific point in time. The problem is that many things can alter your hormones on any given day. Dr. Eder cautions against trying to make conclusions about your fertility based on the results of a single hormone test.
“When we’re talking about fertility, you really need to evaluate trends,” he says. “At-home tests only give you a snapshot of your hormone levels, but a snapshot means nothing. You could have an off month. You could be taking your final exams and skip your period because of the stress, for example. That happens all the time.”
He adds that hormones aren’t the only thing that can impact fertility. “When you talk about ovulation tests and fertility at-home tests — that is only part of the puzzle. Generally, fertility incorporates ovulation, hormones, sperm health, and the health of your reproductive tract. You could spend a fortune in terms of time and money on these tests, but you may be barking up the wrong tree.”
For example, at-home tests can’t detect whether a previous infection has damaged your fallopian tubes or if endometriosis is affecting your chances of conceiving.
Dr. Eder is quick to recommend OPKs to patients who are looking to do more to increase their chances of getting pregnant. Other at-home tests are a different story. These tests may be popular, but he makes a few important points:
He does acknowledge that these tests may be useful in reassuring someone who’s been trying for a few months and still hasn’t conceived. “They could take this test, see their results are normal, and decide they can wait to see a specialist.” Likewise, people without insurance may find at-home tests a more affordable option for reassurance that their hormone levels fall within the “average” range.
However, because hormone tests only give you a snapshot of the state of your fertility, it’s possible to get “normal” results even if something is preventing you from getting pregnant. In that case, Dr. Eder says, “You may be wasting valuable time, especially if you’re an older woman, because fertility tends to diminish after the age of 35.”
While at-home fertility tests aren’t inherently a bad idea, they shouldn’t be viewed as a necessity for monitoring your fertility while you’re trying to conceive. Curious couples may be interested in checking out their hormone levels early on in their fertility journey, and that’s okay. Just remember that these tests can only provide a limited amount of insight into your fertility.
Trying to monitor your hormone levels without the help of a medical professional isn’t easy. Fortunately, it’s not the only way that you can gain insight into your fertility from the comfort of your own home. One of the most important things you can do when trying to conceive is figuring out when you ovulate each cycle.
“Historically, we used basal body temperature for this,” explains Dr. Eder. “When you ovulate, your progestins increase basal body temperature by about half a degree. And by charting that, you can get an idea of when you’re most fertile.” However, he also notes that this method has three main drawbacks:
Continuous core body temperature (CCBT) is a new fertility tracking method that uses real-time changes in your core temperature to both predict and confirm ovulation. The Priya Fertility System uses CCBT tracking, along with a proprietary algorithm, to look for patterns in the way your temperature changes throughout the day. These patterns signal hormone fluctuations that Priya uses to tell you when you’re getting close to ovulation.
“Priya gives you real-time information. That’s the opposite of a snapshot. Everything is charted on your phone, and that’s something you can absolutely bring to your doctor if needed,” says Dr. Eder.
(As a bonus, one study found that Priya could predict ovulation on average 2.7 days before OPKs can detect an LH surge (1). This gives you and your partner more time to have sex while you’re fertile.)
At-home fertility tests may be able to give you some insight into your hormone levels and your fertility, but their results should be taken with a grain of salt. They’re not a necessity, and they cannot replace the advice and insight of a trained healthcare professional. If you’re concerned about increasing your chances of getting pregnant, the best thing you can do is figure out when you’re fertile and plan to have sex during that time.
About the author:
Catherine Poslusny is a writer and content marketing strategist based out of Norman, Oklahoma. She's written for healthcare companies since 2016, and she's most passionate about her work in women’s health, fertility, and reproductive rights. You can find her at catherinerosewrites.com.
Prima-Temp data on file.
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