Family Planning: Fertility Testing


Most fertility tests are designed to help women accurately predict when ovulation will occur in order to assist with family planning. The time around ovulation—the time when a woman is most likely to get pregnant—is called thefertile window. Several OTC tests can predict ovulation. For men, fertility products are used to measure sperm count. Patients using these tests should consult their pharmacist or physician about what kind of activities, medications, practices, and conditions may interact with the tests so that inaccurate results are not obtained.

Female Fertility Tests

Basal Thermometry

A woman’s resting basal body temperature (BBT) is her lowest body temperature. After ovulation, BBT rises about to . For this reason, some women use BBT as a way to tell when ovulation has occurred.

BBT can be tracked using a basal body thermometer, which is designed to detect subtle changes in body temperature. To ensure the most accurate results, women should keep the following in mind when using the BBT method:

  • Get at least 5 hours of sleep
  • Check temperature first thing in the morning
  • Moving, speaking, eating, and other activities will raise your body temperature, giving inaccurate results
  • Temperatures should be charted daily in a diary

When the increase in body temperature is noted, ovulation will have already occurred.

Urinary Hormone Tests

When a woman is close to ovulating, a hormone in her body known as luteinizing hormone, or LH, increases drastically. This drastic increase is known as the LH surge. The LH surge occurs about a day or two before ovulation and can help women determine the best time to conceive.

Urinary hormone tests work to detect increases of LH levels in the urine. A positive test result for ovulation may be indicated in various ways. Depending on the product, ovulation may be indicated by:

  • A color change
  • A change in color intensity
  • Presence of a smiley face

A positive result means ovulation is about to happen. With BBT, the temperature increase tells you that ovulation has just taken place.

Fertility Microscopes

Fertility microscopes examine the quality of the saliva in order to predict ovulation. Saliva patterns change during the “estrogen surge.” Because an estrogen surge occurs before the LH surge, fertility microscopes can give an even earlier prediction of ovulation, but reliability is questionable.

Saliva Electrolyte Monitor

This monitor detects electrolyte changes in the saliva to predict ovulation. Like the fertility microscope, this is not a reliable method.

Wristwatch Ovulation Prediction Device

This wristwatch device is a biosensor that detects increases in the chloride ion content of the skin. When using the wristwatch, the patient should be told that:

  • It must be worn for at least 6 hours every day, preferably at night
  • The watch should not get wet
  • If the patient forgets to wear it for 2 days (even if they were not consecutive), she will need a new watch
  • A new watch is needed for every cycle

The wristwatch device is the earliest predictor of ovulation—it can predict ovulation about 6 days before it occurs.

Male Fertility Tests

Male fertility tests work by measuring sperm count. The test should be done twice. Low sperm count is defined by the World Health Organization as 2 consecutive tests of less than 20 million sperm cells per milliliter taken 3 to 7 days apart.

Resources for Patients

  • The American Pregnancy Association
  • Planned Parenthood
  • US Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health

Resources for Pharmacists

  • Medline Plus
  • US Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health

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