Couples should think twice before having a fertility MOT, experts have warned, as expensive tests are feared to cause stress and lead to unnecessary egg freezing.
Fertility experts have spoken out after high street companies such as Superdrug have begun selling male and female fertility tests.
The tests are just a ‘snapshot’ of fertility, according to critics.
Fertility tests, now available on the high street in the UK, indicate how many eggs women have left to conceive a baby and how fertile they are
Fertility can fluctuate through the month for women, and vary for men depending on when they last had sex.
A female fertility test offered by Superdrug for £77, and also on offer through other retailers and clinics, looks at anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH) – a chemical made by the ‘follicles’ which grow eggs in a woman’s body.
The test indicates how many eggs she has left to conceive a baby, so how fertile she is.
Superdrug has doctors who can provide detailed advice to women after taking tests.
Who gets free IVF on the NHS?
IVF is only offered on the NHS if certain criteria are met.
In 2013, the NICE published fertility guidelines that made recommendations about who should have access to the treatment on the NHS in England and Wales.
However, individual NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups make the final decision about who can access it in their local area, and their criteria may be stricter.
According to NICE, women aged under 42 should be offered three cycles of IVF treatment on the NHS if:
They’ve been trying to get pregnant through regular unprotected sex for two years.
They’ve not been able to get pregnant after 12 cycles of artificial insemination.
If tests show that IVF is the only treatment likely to help you get pregnant, you should be referred for IVF straight away.
Source: NHS Choices
But Dr Channa Jayasena, consultant in reproductive endocrinology at Imperial College London, said the test can open ‘Pandora’s box’, causing unnecessary worry for couples.
Dr Jayasena said: ‘People often assume that a very low AMH is bad for future fertility, and a high AMH is good.
‘However, it just tells you about how many eggs might be collected if you had IVF right now.
‘Women with very low AMH can still have children naturally.
‘An AMH test is a specialist test for people having IVF – not one which should be used regularly by women who are just curious about their fertility.
‘It is important to remember that if one of these tests is interpreted incorrectly, this might put some women under needless stress, or even make them undergo inappropriate procedures such as egg-freezing.’
Women freeze their eggs to have better-quality, younger eggs which may improve their chances of getting pregnant through IVF when they are older.
The procedure costs an average of £3,350, and up to £350 a year to store the eggs.
Experts worry women alarmed by fertility tests may do this unnecessarily when they would have no problem conceiving naturally.
Dr Joyce Harper, professor of reproductive science at University College London, said: ‘Women’s hormones fluctuate throughout their menstrual cycle so measuring them on any one day is just a snapshot of that day and things could be very different a few days later.
‘Studies have shown that most women under 35 who are trying to get pregnant will be pregnant within a year – most within six months.
‘I think doing these tests and charging women money for them is unfair.’
The £148 male fertility test offered by Superdrug tests a man’s sperm and provides analysis of 22 measurements including the sperm count, quality and swimming ability.
Experts caution that men who have been unable to conceive naturally for 12 months can get a test for free on the NHS.
Sarah Norcross, director of fertility charity the Progress Educational Trust, said: ‘Superdrug’s online doctors are unlikely to be fertility specialists, and public sector fertility specialists could suddenly find themselves dealing with large numbers of anxious patients who have used this service and are struggling to make sense of their results.’
The £148 male fertility test offered by Superdrug (pictured above), tests a man’s sperm and provides analysis of 22 measurements including the sperm count, quality and swimming ability
Gwenda Burns, chief executive of national charity Fertility Network UK, said: ‘When you’re struggling with fertility problems, you can be desperate for answers, and tests can seem a quick and easy way to find out more.
‘But understanding the implications of these test results without the input of a specialist may lead to more distress and an incorrect understanding of your fertility situation – giving false hope or dashing dreams unnecessarily.’
AMH tests give an idea of women’s ‘ovarian reserve’ – how many eggs they have left.
The British Fertility Society advice states: ‘There is no doubt that tests showing a good ovarian reserve are reassuring, but they by no means guarantee a baby and equally a poor or impaired ovarian reserve does not mean you will struggle and need fertility treatment.’
The fertility regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, advises that fertility MOT tests give ‘some indication’ of how fertile a woman is but the results are ‘not guaranteed’.
Superdrug also offers tests including one for the condition polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and a progesterone test, which can indicate if women are ovulating.
A spokesman for Superdrug said: ‘As part of the tests on offer, people have access to professional advice and support from our team of doctors, to discuss their results in greater detail, enabling them to have a more informed understanding of their fertility.
‘We also offer a fertility consultation for £5 which provides information about which tests are useful to each individual, along with doctor-led advice on why some tests may not be as relevant to an individual’s circumstances.
‘AMH testing is a routine test for ovarian reserve which is done for every person who finds it difficult to conceive.’
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