Long gone are the days where the only ovulation tests on the market are paper strips that force you to interpret the intensity of a line so you know how close you are to ovulation. In this technological age, we have many more apps and devices at our disposal to easily track our cycles, understand our bodies better, or determine the best time to try to conceive. However, all these options can quickly make you feel overwhelmed. But don’t worry – we’re going to explain how the latest technologies on the market work as well as their pros and cons, so you know which one is best for your needs!
Upgrading the ovulation test strip
The most well-known method of testing if you are ovulating or not is the paper strip that you dip into a cup of urine (or hold midstream). The fancy, scientific name of this method is a lateral flow assay (LFA). As urine flows through an LFA, the target molecule of these ovulation tests, luteinizing hormone (LH), will bind to specific proteins called antibodies. The antibodies in LFAs are either used to give the molecule color or to prevent it from proceeding further through the strip. The combination of both types of antibodies is what generates the test line you see in ovulation tests. If LH isn’t present, then the antibodies won’t bind to anything, and thus no test line is observed. An additional set of antibodies will bind to other molecules in your urine and generate a control line so you know that urine successfully flowed through the entire strip.
LFAs are great if you just need a yes/no answer to whether a molecule is present in a sample or not. However, since ovulation is detected when the LH level peaks, we have to interpret the intensity of the test line on the strip. The more intense the line, the more LH that has bonded to antibodies, and thus the more LH that is in our system. As you can imagine (or have experienced first-hand), interpreting whether the intensity of a line has changed between yesterday and today is not always clear.
But in this technological age, we now have devices that can read the strip for you! Whether that device is a separate product that accompanies the urine strips, or even an app directly on your phone, advancements in photo capture and analysis have made it possible to semi-quantify the amount of LH based on the test line’s intensity.
Other modern improvements for LFAs have been to detect other hormones besides LH or multiple hormones simultaneously in your urine. By doing so, you gain more insights into your fertility window and health.
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Don’t want to use urine? No problem.
If you’d rather use something else rather than urine to detect if you’re ovulating or not, there are many other options! In the LFA world, strips using saliva are being developed and released.
But there’s also a whole different world of ovulation test outside of LFAs: wearables! There has been so much innovation in this area because there are different physiological signs that can be measured to understand your ovulation cycle from many different areas in your body for different lengths of time.
The most common physiological sign to measure is your basal body temperature (BBT), or your lowest body temperature when you’re at rest, as it will increase slightly before ovulation and peaks after it. Your BBT can be measured from your wrist or in your mouth, ear, armpit, or vagina during your sleep or immediately after you wake up. Your breathing and pulse rates can also be measured to understand your cycle better.
An ovulation assistant – all in the palm of your hand
Many ovulation test strips and wearables have an associated app to help you analyze the intensity of the test line on your strips. The apps often graph your current cycle, save data from your previous cycles, use it to make predictions about your future cycle, provide fertility education, and connect you with a community where you can ask and answer questions.
There are also stand-alone apps with no accompanying ovulation test. These apps usually use the length of your period and the time between your periods to guess when your fertility window is. There are also other qualitative data that you can input into the app to better determine the timing of your fertility window (ex. your cervical mucus will typically change from dry, sticky, slippery, to dry during your cycle) or just to better understand how your mood, skin, hair, and sleep change during your cycle.
Which one is best for me?
LH strips measure a hormone that has been proven over many years of scientific research to be a reliable indication of ovulation shortly after it peaks. They’re also inexpensive because the technology has been around for several decades, although the cost adds up over multiple cycles or if there’s an accompanying hardware device. If you use the test strip correctly (ex. don’t drink excessive amounts of water prior to testing and only place the strip in the urine for the specified amount of time), you’ll likely get an accurate picture of where you currently are in your cycle using this strip. The main drawbacks of LH strips are that they use urine and the intensity of the test line has to be interpreted by a phone, hardware device, or you. Although urine can be replaced by saliva in LFA technology, the reliability of measuring hormones in saliva is much less well-studied.
Wearables provide a more hygienic, painless experience for people. You may find it takes less effort to put on a bracelet around your wrist or a thermometer in your vagina or mouth before you go to sleep or right after waking up. Although they seem more expensive than purchasing strips at first glance, they’re also a one-time purchase, whereas you’ll need several strips per cycle. The main problem with wearables is that the physiological signs they are measuring are easily influenced by eating or drinking alcohol before bed, stress, illnesses, medications, oversleeping, and disturbed/late nights. There’s also doubts about the accuracy of using these physiological signs in tracking your cycle amongst doctors and researchers.
While stand-alone apps may seem the easiest (and often free) alternative to the previous ovulation tests, its major trade-off is that it cannot definitively pinpoint when ovulation occurs between your periods. Although many apps tout the use of artificial intelligence and algorithms, they’re really only able to predict your next period based off data from your previous cycles and when your ovulation cycle will occur based on the “average” person. Since they aren’t measuring anything quantitative, only qualitative, they are very unreliable for trying to get pregnant or avoiding pregnancy.
If you’re looking to get an overall picture of your cycle, these three options could work for you depending on your lifestyle and preferences. If you’re trying to get pregnant (or avoid pregnancy, although none of these options are true contraceptives) and you have regular cycles, any of these options will likely continue to work for you, and we hope that you’re now armed with the knowledge about the pros and cons of each to select which one is best for you!
What if I have irregular cycles or PCOS?
For the many of us that have irregular cycles or PCOS and are trying to get pregnant or avoid pregnancy, none of these options work because:
- The most modern LFA technology can still never truly quantify your hormone levels.
- While PCOS individuals’ BBT is still sustained after ovulation like individuals without PCOS, it doesn’t help PCOS individuals predict ovulation.
- The length of a period and total cycle will change unpredictably, so any app won’t be able to predict your future ovulation day based off your previous cycles.
Here at Zergo, we realized that too, which is why we’re building the most precise ovulation test ever that can be used for anyone, by anyone. Sign up for our newsletter to get updates about our product and receive more informative articles like this one!