Fertility tests – how well do they work?
Home fertility tests claim to tell you how easily you may be able to conceive. But how accurate are they and should you try one?
There are now a number of easy to use fertility tests on the market that claim to give an indication of how fertile you are by checking out your ovarian reserve (how many eggs you have left). For women who are self-conscious about going to a doctor with their fertility worries, home testing can be a big help, but you do need to think it through before you do it.
How do these fertility tests work?
All three fertility tests below aim to detect elevated levels of FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone). Rising levels of this hormone tend to be associated with reduced fertility.
As you age, so do your eggs; and as the quality of eggs declines, increasing amounts of FSH are released in order to produce eggs capable of fertilisation.
The Plan Ahead test (tested below) also measures levels of two other ovarian hormones – Inhibin B and AMH – and takes into account other factors, such as your age.
If you plan to take one of these fertility tests you need to remember that the results may not be the ones you want. You should be as mentally and emotionally prepared as possible for what the results could mean for you.
Fertility test 1: the Babystart test
The cheapest of the three tested, and the easiest to do as it doesn’t require waiting around until a particular point in your cycle. It involves peeing on a stick (first-thing-in-the-morning urine required for this) and waiting to see how many coloured lines appear in the results window – similar to a pregnancy test.
This pack contains two little sticks – the second stick is there to provide a confirmation reading should the first stick indicate that your FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone) levels are raised, and you should try it a week after your first, if needed.
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Results are pretty much instantaneous, but I got a bit confused over how dark one of my coloured lines had to be for my FSH levels to be OK. With no one around to provide a second opinion, I had no option but to take the second test seven days later, and I’m pretty sure I’m OK. But I’m not entirely convinced.
- Costs: £12.93
- Buy it from: www.med-direct.com
- Results in: Five minutes (or seven days, five minutes in my case).
- Pros: Easy to use and at least you get two attempts at it.
- Cons: Ambiguity over the first result meant seven days of nerves while I waited to take the second test.
Fertility test 2: the Fertell test
Like the Babystart test, this is a stick you pee on. But, unlike Babystart, you need to get organised for this test as it has to be carried out on day three of your cycle (the accompanying instructions cite your first day of bleeding or spotting as day one).
First-thing-in-the-morning’s urine is the order of the day once again, but this test states more specifically that you shouldn’t have peed for four hours before you take it.
Results are ready half an hour after you’ve done the test. A line in the control window indicates that the test has worked; then a reference line (or the reference line plus a line that’s lighter than it) in the second window indicates a normal ovarian reserve. If the reference line in the second window is accompanied by another darker line, your reserve isn’t at the normally expected level.
No ambiguity for me – just one line in the second window – so I feel I can breathe a sigh of relief.
- Costs: £24.99
- Buy it from: Boots, www.fertell.co.uk
- Results in: 30 minutes
- Pros: Easy to read results; free Fertell advice and info line on 0800 731 8267.
- Cons: If your period bleeding is a little irregular, it may be hard to tell exactly when day three is.
Fertility test 3: the Plan Ahead test
The daddy of the tests and not cheap, this one comes with clear, comprehensive instructions. First stop is to register your kit online (to avoid results getting mixed up) then you need to have a blood sample taken on the second or third day of your period at your doctor’s surgery or a medical centre and send it away for testing.
Plan Ahead measures the level of three different hormones and markets itself as the most accurate ovarian reserve hormone test available in the world. Results come through the post with a graph and comprehensive guide to fertility.
My results tell me my ovarian reserve index is within the normal range for my age, so I’m more than happy with the result!
- Costs: £179
- Buy it from: 0114 275 5723 or www.boots.com
- Results: In about three weeks
- Pros: Gives a more detailed result and results are valid for two years.
- Cons: If you’re on the Pill, you need to stop taking it for a month to be tested; if the second or third day of your period falls on a weekend, getting a blood sample taken can be stressful.
Would I use the tests again?
Plan Ahead, most definitely – it’s already making me think about how much time I have left if I want to conceive. As for the other two tests, I think I’ll revisit Fertell periodically to check out how I’m doing and see if there’s any cause for alarm.
How well do fertility tests work - the expert opinion
“A woman’s fertility starts to fail from the age of 35 according to a number of factors: eggs available, the eggs’ response to hormonal drive, the chromosomal stability of the eggs and the introduction of other factors – diseases such as fibroids – that occur through life,” says Laurence Shaw, deputy medical director at the Bridge Centre www.gynaecology.eu.com “The tests give no assessment of the rate of decline [in fertility] and my worry is that people will use reassuring results to delay trying for a baby for another 10 years.
“Babystart and Fertell assess the response of the ovaries to the hormonal drive. Plan Ahead also gives a snapshot of the ‘background hum’ emanating from the remaining eggs – the louder the hum the more eggs. But the tests give no assessment of the rate of decline and my worry is that people will use reassuring results to delay trying for a baby for another 10 years,” says Mr Shaw.
“Fertility testing changed my life plan”
“I was 31 and I was planning not to have children for another three or four years while I launched my new company. My mum suggested I froze my eggs, which I thought was a bit drastic (my mum has 11 siblings and my sister already had a child).
“I took the test to appease my mother but when the results came back they showed my ovarian reserve was that of a 37-year-old, I realised I couldn’t put my baby plans on hold as I’d intended. A month later we started trying for a child and, thankfully, conceived Josh two months later. I’m now thinking about having a second and planning to take the test again to see how my body’s holding up.”
Janey, 34, mum to Josh, 2
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