What are period trackers and how do they actually work?

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  • Do they even work?

    They’re the new big thing in health technology –  apps to track your periods, monitor your ovulation and keep tabs on your menstrual health. But before you download every period tracker you can get your thumbs on, are they actually as good as they sound?

    With some users reporting increased anxiety levels and a newly neurotic approach to their periods, we caught up with Dr Karen Morton, Founder of Dr Morton’s medical helpline and Consultant Gynaecologist, to find out whether period trackers are a help, or a hindrance.

    Are period trackers useful?

    ‘Well, I think anything that increases women’s awareness of the importance of their reproductive and sexual health, and indeed health in general has got to be good. But I think, with this sort of thing, there’s a danger that period trackers can actually cause more anxiety than they solve, so I’m not sure they’re altogether necessary. The idea that you’ve got to wait for something to going ping on your phone or vibrate to tell you to change your tampon is a bit patronizing really. It implies women are idiots, and of course women are not idiot – we’re intelligent people who take control of these things and have done since time began.’

    Should you worry if your period tracker reports a late period?

    ‘Absolutely not. It’s really not unusual – nobody’s periods are totally regular all the time. And there aren’t any health implications if your periods are irregular, either.’

    What are the best period tracking apps?

    ‘I think they’re all much of a muchness, really. But the ones that actually give some educational information are the best ones. But the thing to remember is that you don’t need an app for all of that – if you want to work out when you’re ovulating, then that’s not difficult to work out – and you don’t have to meticulously record your periods to do so. There is a fixed 14 day interval from ovulation to menstruation, so if you want to know when you’re ovulating, find an ovulation-predictor online. You just put in the date of your last period, the length of your cycle and it tells you the day when you’re most fertile – than you can use that to get pregnant or to avoid pregnancy. It’s very simple.’

    Can you use period trackers as a form of contraception? 

    ‘It’s a risk. They don’t address other aspects of sexual health (in other words, unless you’re completely certain your partner isn’t cheating on you, and you’re completely certain about their sexual history, then you should be using a condom anyway). That said, it is a pretty reliable technique if you have an absolutely regular cycle, if you absolutely know when your fixed interval of ovulation to menstruation is, and you absolutely know if you know how long your cycle is.’

    Are period trackers healthier than the pill?

    ‘You couldn’t be further from the truth. Hormonal contraception has been absolutely liberating for women worldwide. Of course, it needs to be prescribed by a doctor who takes into account a woman’s history of things like migraines, or a family history of blood clotting disorder and things like that, but they are fantastically safe. I see a lot of women who stop taking the pill because they feel they should have a break, but there’s no evidence to support that concept. Any changes to your body will happen when you start taking it – and when you stop taking it. Otherwise, you’re in a very healthy state. Taking the pill for five years, ten years or 15 years doesn’t do anything to your fertility. If anything, it protects it. So once you’re in a perfectly happy stable situation, stick with it until you want to have a baby. There’s nothing cumulative about it, nothing addictive to the body about it, no evidence that it makes ovaries lazy.’

    Do they actually track your periods?

    ‘Yes, of course. Some of my patients track their periods in an old-fashioned filofax or diary. Obviously, so many people use their phones as a diary, simply putting a P or something is a perfectly reasonable way to do it. But it doesn’t need to be anymore obsessive than that – I really do think that the apps feed into neurosis. They cause anxiety. Do you think it’s normal to want to record whether your period is light today, and bit heavier tomorrow, then a bit heavier the next day? I mean, for heaven’s sake! I think it’s really important for women to seek advice if their periods are spoiling their quality of life. But I don’t think the menstrual app does that. We should just talk about about periods more. Talking about them is much more healthy.’

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