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At home fertility testing kits are becoming a popular choice for those trying to conceive, but how do they work and are there different male and female tests?
Infertility, the inability to conceive, is considered a global public health problem, affecting around fifteen percent of couples worldwide. Infertility can be attributed to either the male, female, or both. Couples generally consult a fertility specialist for evaluation and possibly treatment for infertility after a year of trying to conceive. However, if the female partner is over age 35 years, then the evaluation will likely begin after six months.
Fertility is largely dependent on age. For women, the ability to get pregnant is considered to peak in the mid-twenties and starts to decline at age 30 years. By age 35 years, the decline in female fertility becomes more rapid.
At home fertility tests now provide people with the ability to test their fertility at home – and there are specific male and female fertility tests – here’s how they work.
How do home fertility tests work?
There are several tests available to assess both male and female fertility. These tests are generally done at a clinic under the supervision of a qualified health professional. Over the past several years, many couples choose to use an at home testing kit to assess their fertility. Most of these home test kits for fertility can be purchased over the counter and are considered to be quick and easy to use.
It is generally recommended that the couples or individuals consult their doctors before choosing to purchase an at home fertility testing kit. The home tests can be valuable in assessing the person’s fertility potential; however, they are not considered a substitute for a medical diagnosis or treatment of infertility by a qualified clinical specialist.
Female home fertility tests
The at home fertility tests for women are used to help provide a general overview of their reproductive health. The hormone test checks for hormone imbalances in which the person’s hormone levels are either too high or too low. It measures the levels of key hormones such as follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), estradiol (E2), and prolactin.
Fertility tests are administered by collecting samples of blood, urine, or saliva, depending on the type of test. Several at-home fertility testing kits apply the finger prick method to collect blood samples and is considered to produce a comprehensive profile of an individual’s hormone health. The samples are sent to a lab and the test results are generally available within a few days for the individual to review.
The hormone FSH, secreted by the pituitary gland, is responsible for stimulating the growth and maturation of the follicles inside the ovaries before ovulation. Estradiol is a sex hormone secreted by the ovaries and its primary function is the development and maintenance of the female reproductive organs.
Follicle stimulating hormone, estradiol, and anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH) levels, are measured to examine the ovarian reserve, referring to the woman’s reproductive potential, based on the quantity and quality of oocytes (immature eggs) in the ovaries. The test to measure FSH and estradiol levels is generally performed on the second or third day of the menstrual cycle. The hormone AMH, secreted by the ovaries, can be measured at any time.
Elevated levels of FSH and estradiol and low levels of AMH may indicate a diminished ovarian reserve – a decrease in the number of eggs. High estradiol levels result in inhibiting the production of FSH, leading to artificially low or normal follicle stimulating hormone levels. It is recommended that the two hormones are tested together to provide more accurate results. Low estradiol levels may indicate the presence of medical conditions such as menopause or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
A home test for luteinizing hormone (LH), secreted by the pituitary gland, is performed to track ovulation. The LH levels usually surge around sixteen to forty-eight hours prior to ovulation and this surge can be detected in the blood or urine.
Most common home ovulation testing kits include test strips to be placed in urine (by either adding a few drops or dipping the strip in a cup of urine). These strips are then analyzed by a digital reader or monitor, generally connected to a mobile device such as a smartphone on which the results can be reviewed. The test results can determine whether the individual is close to ovulation or not. Generally, most women begin using the testing kits on day six of their menstrual cycle and continue testing for around a few days or until they get a positive result.
According to several studies, the ovulation tests, measuring LH levels, are found to produce accurate results for about 90-100 percent of the menstrual cycles. However, these tests may not be able to predict ovulation if it occurs late or if a surge in LH was detected but an egg was not released.
A 2017 study, published in JAMA, reported that a diminished ovarian reserve is not associated with infertility. It is not recommended to rely on these home tests alone to determine fertility.
Male home fertility tests
At home fertility tests for men look at factors affecting male fertility such as sperm count and motility. The home testing kits involve collecting semen samples in a cup and transferring those samples to another device for analysis. There are several types of testing kits available that use different methods to transfer and analyze the samples.
The most commonly used testing kits use devices that can attach to a smartphone. These devices make use of the smartphone’s camera and flash to capture a video of the sperm in the sample. The analysis is quick with the results available within a few minutes. The testing kit includes an app, downloaded onto the phone. The users can view the results on their phone within the app as well as save the captured video of their sperm.
While many of these home testing kits report an accuracy of over 90 percent, they are not able to provide a thorough and complete analysis of the semen. It is recommended that individuals consult a qualified health professional to obtain a more detailed and accurate analysis of their fertility.
Written by Ranjani Sabarinathan, MSc
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