Choosing an ovulation test

Most ovulation tests are similar to pregnancy tests: You hold them downward in your urine stream, then wait a specified period of time for results. Some are digital, giving you a smiley face or YES/NO readout; others have a test line and a control line that must be compared.

Ovulation test strips, on the other hand, can only be dipped in a urine sample -- no using them midstream -- and always require users to interpret results themselves with a test line and a control line. They are cheaper, especially for women who want to buy in bulk, but far less easy to use, requiring users to scrutinize the test line to determine whether it's as dark as or darker than the control line. While this sounds simple in theory, many women say it can be tricky in practice.

Accuracy is similar for both ovulation tests and test strips, so for most women, choosing an ovulation test comes down to two main considerations: ease of use and price. If you don't want to worry about whether a test is positive, pay more for a digital test that gives you a definitive result. If you'd rather spend less and don't mind the learning curve that comes with them, opt for a non-digital ovulation test or ovulation test strips.

Remember that ovulation tests themselves are of limited help when it comes to identifying patterns in your menstrual cycle. To do that, you'll need to track the dates of your periods at the very least. Consider using an app that can do that as well as help you chart other fertility signs, such as basal body temperature and cervical mucus, in conjunction with ovulation tests.

Here are a few other things to consider when shopping for ovulation tests:

  • Are your menstrual cycles regular? Some ovulation tests come in packs of seven; others come in packs of 20 or even 50. For women who have normal or close-to-normal cycles of about 28 days, a week's worth of tests should be enough to detect ovulation. However, women who have longer, more irregular cycles may need to test for more than a week to determine if and when they ovulate.
  • Always follow the directions. Some reviewers who complain of inaccurate results acknowledge they may not have followed directions. Whether the manufacturer recommends you test at a certain time of day, read a test only after a certain period of time, or interpret results in a certain way, be sure to do so. You can't trust the results of a test that was improperly used.
  • Check expiration dates. Old tests may not give accurate results. Don't assume that the tests you just bought are valid -- some reviewers report being sent already-expired tests or finding expired tests on store shelves.
  • See whether tests are individually packaged. If tests are packaged together, they may need to be used within one menstrual cycle. If they're packaged separately, you can usually save unused tests and use them in subsequent months as long as they aren't expired.
  • Will you be testing at home or on the go? Some manufacturers say you can test anytime of day; others recommend a specific time, such as midday. For some women, that means sneaking off to the bathroom at work to take an ovulation test. In that case, an easy-to-use test that delivers a quick, definitive result will probably be essential.
  • Do you have any existing conditions that might impact fertility? Some women may not ovulate, or ovulate only irregularly, for a variety of reasons. Some of the most common include polycystic ovarian syndrome and certain thyroid conditions. Stress and being over- or underweight can also affect ovulation. You can avoid some frustration by using fertility charting apps to help determine what's going on instead of relying only on ovulation tests.
  • Ovulation tests are not foolproof. In some cases, women can experience LH surges that aren't followed by ovulation. In this case, you'll still get a positive result even though you don't ovulate.
  • Speak to a doctor if you have concerns. Ovulation tests can't diagnose underlying fertility problems, but they may help alert you if there's an issue. Be sure to speak to a doctor if you have concerns, such as too many positive or negative tests. 

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