New research has found hormone self-testing kits may not be the marker of reproductive success we’ve been led to believe.
In the quest to have a baby, small signals of affirmation can be the difference between hope and despair – and any promise of fertility means the world.
The claim is this: by measuring hormone levels present, which indicate developing follicles, the test provides a marker of a woman’s fertile window and, in turn, their ability to conceive.
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The catch? New research undertaken by a team of experts from top universities across Australia, who analysed content on all the websites selling the AMH test, found the claims made to hopeful future parents were “misleading” – and gave inaccurate predictions of reproductive success.
“That AMH test result can’t tell you a whole lot about your chance of having a baby in the future,” says Dr Rachel Thompson, one of the study’s co-authors. “It’s only a small part of the story in terms of someone’s overall fertility, chance of conceiving or even when they’re going into menopause.”
The tests do provide an indication of whether or not the AMH is present, but, as doctors know, fertility is made up of several factors. The problem is the websites selling them varied a great deal in terms of the information they provided – promising to indicate fertility in a way that isn’t feasible.
Dr Frank Quinn, the medical director of IVF Australia, believes “if someone is considering in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), an AMH test is useful as it gives an indication of how well they will respond to ovarian-stimulation medicines.”
However, it doesn’t investigate other factors affecting fertility, such as “weight, nutrition, smoking and alcohol intake”, he adds. Not to mention biological factors such as sperm health or issues with the uterus and fallopian tubes.
So what does it matter that these seemingly inconsequential egg-timer tests might not be all they’re cracked up to be? Dr Thompson’s concern centres on the natural “leap in thinking that testing positive or negative [reflects] their ability to actually have a baby” – a reassurance the test cannot provide.
Dr Quinn concurs, saying ignoring these critical elements does not give a full-picture of fertility, and “can create a false sense of security as it’s not indicative of egg quality”.
Being told you’re running out of fertile years can have emotional – not to mention financial – ramifications. Those who are led to believe their reproductive window is closing may be more likely to invest in expensive egg-freezing procedures. It may also cause younger women or couples to rush into having kids before they’re ready. Or, conversely, lead women in their 30s to believe they have plenty of time, when the quality of their eggs may not be reflected in their quantity.
The most important thing to know in this new health landscape, where almost anything can be assessed online? “If people are going into testing without understanding the limitations, they may be falsely reassured by the findings or they may be unnecessarily disappointed,” says Dr Thompson. “And both of those things could be pretty awful.”
How to test your fertility, the right way
1. Get informed
Hormone levels don’t necessarily equate to fertility. Be aware of the limitations of the test and the actual information it can provide.
2. Get assessed
Undertake a “comprehensive fertility assessment”, including tubal patency and semen analysis, to get an accurate reading, says Dr Quinn.
3. Get advice
Speak to your GP or fertility specialist, who can provide trustworthy and local health department-approved advice.