Mobile apps designed to track menstrual cycles are ineffective and may even cause unplanned pregnancies, a new study finds.

These mobile apps help women track their menstrual cycle so couples know when a woman's level of fertility is at its highest. The smartphone apps make use of data such as dates of menstrual period, temperature as well as other fertility signs. Apart from indicating when fertility levels are up, the apps also indicate when they are low.

However, new research finds that women are more at risk of having unplanned pregnancies if they swap traditional contraceptives with digital methods. Instead of using these mobile apps as a way to increase their conception chances, many are using them as a form of contraception.

A research team from the Georgetown University School of Medicine analyzed several fertility apps to study their reliability. The study also aimed to test how scientifically grounded the apps' methodologies are.

The researchers discovered that majority of the menstrual cycle apps depend on the so-called fertility awareness-based methods (FABMs). Since these do not utilize sufficient evidence-based methodologies and research, the apps may not be effective in avoiding unplanned pregnancy.

In fact, only six apps were able to gain a "perfect score" in terms of accuracy and for not turning out false negatives.

The researchers said that the FABMs' effectivity relies on a woman's ability to observe and record the fertility biomarkers as well as following guidelines rooted on evidence gathered. While mobile apps give women a convenient and an easy way to track these biomarkers, very few utilize evidence-based FABMs.

The researchers found over 95 menstrual apps available on Google or Google Play and iTunes. They did not include 55 apps due to a disclaimer that prohibits users from using the app to avoid pregnancy. They also excluded the ones that did not declare the use of evidence-based FABM.

The 40 mobile apps were then tested for their accuracy. For the rating system, the team used a 10-point criteria employed by the Family Practice Management. For each criterion, the team used a five-point scale system.

"When learning how to track your fertility signs, we recommend that women first receive instruction from a trained educator and then look for an app that scored 4 or more on mean accuracy and authority in our review," said study lead Dr. Marguerite Duane from Georgetown University School of Medicine.

The study is released in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.

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