Contraception app plans to tell women when to seek fertility treatment

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A controversial contraception app is planning a service to tell women when they need to seek fertility treatment. Natural Cycles, a Swedish app, is currently testing a new feature which could stop women waiting until it’s too late before they look for help to get pregnant. The service could be particularly helpful to older women, said chief executive Elina Berglund, as the average age of first motherhood rises. “Often one problem is they seek help too late, especially since women are generally older when they try to get pregnant so they might not have a lot of time,” she said. Natural Cycles, which has around 900,000 users, is an app which women can use to monitor their fertility.

Users take their temperature each morning and the technology uses this to assess their fertility levels, and advise them on whether they need to use alternative contraception. Guidelines published by the World Health Organisation suggest that couples try to conceive naturally for a year before seeking fertility treatment, and NHS standards state that couples having difficulty conceiving should be offered IVF after two years of trying. Using the app could help them seek help earlier, Ms Berglund said, or alternatively suggest they wait longer, based on their medical history and other data.

The company’s infertility algorithm analyses a woman’s menstrual cycle, previous birth control methods, body mass index and age, and makes a recommendation based on data showing how long it typically takes someone with her profile to get pregnant. “If the user reaches their threshold, we inform them of that and guide them to the next step. Usually the next step isn’t IVF, but for many of these women IVF might be the final solution,” she added.

Earlier this year official figures showed that pregnancies among women in their 30s had surpassed those in their 20s for the first time since records began, and IVF is becoming increasingly popular and successful as more women seek it out and the technique improves. Natural Cycles’ infertility feature is currently being trialled in Sweden, with tests due to conclude in August. If successful it would be rolled out to the app’s users after that. The app is the first certified for use as a contraceptive by the EU, but it became embroiled in controversy last year after medics in Sweden reported an influx of reported pregnancies among women who had been using it.

An investigation by the Swedish medical regulator found rates were in line with the advertised effectiveness rate with typical use of 93 per cent.Fertility experts warned that the system might not work for women with irregular cycles. “There are also many  factors other than ovulation that could lead to fertility problems, such as blocked fallopian tubes or the taking of certain medication, all of which are not taken into account. “Simply monitoring ovulation is unlikely to help and could lead to unnecessary stress or encourage some people to believe that all is fine,” said Dr Geeta Nargund, medical director at fertility clinic CREATE.

“Using apps as an indicator of fertility also makes the worrying assumption that all fertility problems are caused by women only. Many may be surprised to know that male fertility problems account for up to 50 per cent of fertility issues, and so when talking about fertility we need to make sure both sexes are equally considered,” she added. Charity Fertility Network UK said it was “great to see that there are developers who are looking to help women who could potentially face fertility issues”, but added: “There must be great caution around an app claiming to diagnose whether someone requires fertility treatment. This is because it is often only through further medical investigations that this can be determined.” The Telegraph

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