Biology tends to play tricks on women
Before the digital age, the workings of the female body were even more mysterious and challenging to follow than today. Although women always had to be aware of the milestone dates of their cycles every month, tracking it was a hassle. Ten or fifteen years ago, paper-based menstruation calendars were supposed to help, but they usually had a tiny, not very user-friendly format, could not set reminders or send notifications, so it was easy to forget about them altogether.
Not to mention that women’s bodies are nothing like a Swiss atomic clock, sensitivity towards the weather or other environmental factors, stress or health issues can easily influence cycles. So, for many women the first day of menstruation usually came out of the blue, causing stress and unpleasant moments. Talking to the gynecologist could be an embarrassment, too, if you tended to forget the exact dates since the first thing they usually ask is about the cycle.
The entire situation was somewhat similar to ancient methods of fertility tracking, which were as efficient as trying to guess the number of red candies in a pack of M&Ms. When a couple wanted to start a family relatively fast, and they did not mind helping the process with a little bit of planning, they had to rely on rough estimations of menstruation and ovulation cycle. Luck, coincidence, God or the “universe” played a huge role in family planning.
Technology helps reduce the role of luck
When smartphones with cycle and ovulation tracking apps appeared, many women could feel a bit relieved. Via the majority of these apps, you can not only track your period – together with any symptoms, such as mood swings, severe cramps, headaches, bloating -, but they usually predict when your next cycle begins. In the last couple of years, some apps have even been amended with machine learning technologies to read data patterns and predict the workings of the female body even more precisely. Period Calendar, Flo Period Tracker, Clue, My Calendar, Glow, Eve, Period Tracker Lite, Period Plus, My Cycles, Cycles – the list is too long to recount; these were the best ones according to Medical News Today in 2018.
The situation is somewhat similar when looking at the landscape of fertility trackers as they are understandably linked to menstruation cycle tracking. Glow, Clue and many other period trackers help figure out when is the best time to conceive, too. Many apps, such as Fertility Friend or Ovia use only data to try to do the guesswork, but many others already realized that they need sensors for estimating ovulation more accurately. Kindara and Natural Cycles use specific thermometers, Daysy has a fertility monitor, OvaCue and Me.Mum use saliva. Maja Bujas, CEO, and Co-founder of Me.Mum told The Medical Futurist that she developed her saliva testing solution for women using smartphones when she wanted to get pregnant. She aimed to increase accuracy and offer a user-friendly procedure that anyone can do at home.
The Ava fertility tracker has a similar promise, but a different solution. They use a wristband to measure many health parameters, just as in case of a fitness tracker, while you follow your results and estimations on a smartphone app. It certainly looks promising, and the editor of The Medical Futurist had the chance to test and review it for you. Let’s see how it performed!
Ava: cycle, fertility and pregnancy tracker
The Zurich-based company developed Ava for women who want to know more about their bodies: observe their menstruation or ovulation cycles or follow their pregnancies. Via logging symptoms as well as data, users can identify changes that may indicate potential health issues, while they can also get a clearer picture and a more accurate prediction when they are likely to be most fertile – not matter whether they try to get pregnant or avoid that situation.
The tracker itself is a fitness wristband-like device. It has a neat and streamlined design with a lovely color. It is great to see that designers and developers are moving beyond the girly equals pink and boyish equals blue scenario. Moreover, the sensor itself is put into a grey shell inspired by the process of conception – the logo of Ava also resembles that. In the box, you can find the bracelet itself, the micro USB cable for charging, as well as some information about the product.
The charging and the measurement process
Before going into details about what and how Ava measures, some words about the measurement process and charging the device. The latter is apparently the weakest point of the tracker. You have to charge it every day by plugging it into your computer or any other machine with a USB connector. When you plug it in, the tracker first starts synching with the Ava app via Bluetooth to read the measurement data. It works nicely, although sometimes you cannot really see whether the bracelet is charged as if you don’t connect it to the app, a blue dot is flashing for a while. But then it becomes quite clear: if the dot lights up red, it needs charging, if it’s green, the Ava is ready for use.
It is convenient that you do not have to wear the Ava bracelet throughout the entire day, only at nights. You just put on the bracelet and go to sleep. The users only have to keep in mind that the tracker only works if they wear it for at least four hours with three hours of sleep. But let’s be honest here: that doesn’t sound like an unachievable goal. It is an excellent feature of the sensor that it lights up green when it touches the skin, so the user precisely knows it started to work.
What does Ava measure and how?
The company says on its website that Ava was clinically tested in a year-long study at the University Hospital of Zurich, and their first findings were published in the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports. It is an FDA-registered and a CE-certified device which measures skin temperature, resting pulse rate, breathing rate, heart rate variability ratio, perfusion, movement, bioimpedance, heat loss and sleep.
Ava measures skin temperature to identify fertility phases – as skin temperature rises by about 1.5 degrees after ovulation and it remains elevated until the next period. During pregnancy, skin temperature is also higher than usual. It is also useful to know that skin temperature is generally lower than the value you get with a thermometer. The tracker measures resting pulse rate, which is higher at the beginning of the fertile phase. The value varies between 40 and 80 bpm, but if someone is more physically active, the rate might even go lower than 40.
The range for breathing rate is between 10-25 bpm, and it’s usually higher in the phase before menstruation. The heart rate variability ratio or HRV ratio is the variation in the time interval from one heartbeat to the next. Researchers use it as an indicator of physiological stress. In the case of Ava, the lower the HRV ratio, the less stressed you are.
Ava measures your sleep as well: how much light, deep sleep you experience and how much time you spend at night in REM phase. Although there are many other trackers for sleep quality, this information is useful to see how menstruation affects sleeping patterns.
Personal experience with Ava
While it took a learning period – approximately one week – to get Ava into the daily routine before going to bed, the richness of data compensated for the tiny inconveniences. The tracker and the app work nicely. The app displays data in a very user-friendly way and shows little tips for women – when to try getting pregnant, what happens during the luteal phase, what happens with an unfertilized egg. It’s easy to use and very straightforward.
Although we do not have a way to show whether the data is indeed accurate, and we cannot expect the same accuracy as in the case of the major fitness trackers, it seems to work and be in line with expectations. You can even receive your data in an e-mail and show it to your gynecologist.
The Ava fertility tracker clearly represents a niche area as many women believe apps are not enough for fertility tracking anymore but want something more accurate and user-friendly, which they can use at home. The fact that it can also track stress levels or sleep is a bonus. Although we would not recommend it for daily use mainly because of the charging issue, if a woman wants to get pregnant, it is genuinely worth discovering what Ava has to offer. And along the way, you might find something about your body that you never knew.
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