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Dollars and Sense

by Evelina Weidman Sterling

I am asked all the time if there are any at-home fertility tests on the market. The short answer is yes, there are. Several different tests claim to assess a woman’s hormone levels. By peeing on a stick, they say you can get insight into your fertility.

Sometimes costing up to $100, these tests are not all accurate, and there is a lot of room for error. You have to follow the directions exactly, which may be very difficult to decipher. Additionally, no matter what the results are, your doctor is going to want to repeat more sophisticated testing. My main concern is that women will get a false reading and assume all is well with their fertility and delay seeking appropriate care. And as we all know, time is of the essence when it comes to fertility.

So what’s a girl to do? Is there any way you can take a closer look at your fertility before you make an appointment with your doctor. Absolutely! And the best thing about it is that it is easy and totally free.

What in the world am I talking about and why haven’t you heard about it before? Basically, in our society, we have tended to ignore the power of the menstrual cycle. As women, we take it for granted. Yes, it’s something we learn to “deal” with every month or so. But, we don’t fully understand it and what it can tell us, especially about our own fertility and well-being.

I’m a huge advocate of looking at the menstrual cycle as a “vital sign.” Similar to any other vital signs you check — say your temperature, blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight — problems with your period are a good indicator of bigger problems elsewhere. Most doctors dismiss this. They say it’s no big deal, it’s just stress, or your hormones will even out … eventually. Many doctors are also quick to prescribe birth control pills in order to better regulate your cycles. Unfortunately, this will only mask the symptoms while whatever is causing your irregular periods may continue to worsen over time.

What do you need to know about your periods? First of all, recognize when there is something wrong. (If you are unsure how to get started, check out some of the cool new menstrual cycle tracking tools available like or the iPhone App Period-Tracker).

Most girls get their first periods between the ages of 11 and 14. A “normal” cycle lasts anywhere between 21 and 35 days. Bleeding varies from woman to woman, but typically it should last anywhere between three and five days. Unusually heavy bleeding is indicated by soaking through one or more pads or tampons every hour for several hours. Periods, while uncomfortable and annoying, are not supposed to be a source of extreme pain or cramps. Likewise, hormonal changes associated with the menstrual cycle can impact your mood. However, any symptoms that disrupt your quality of life should be clearly noted. Overall, if you experience anything that you think is “abnormal,” discuss it with you doctor immediately. And insist that he or she concentrate on figuring out the root cause of your irregularity.

Research suggests that nearly all irregular cycles can be traced to a specific cause. And many of these causes can have bigger implications to your overall health. Two of the most common causes are polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and primary ovarian insufficiency (POI). In addition to causing irregular periods, these conditions place you at higher risk for developing longer-term health problems like cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, diabetes or osteoporosis. Irregular periods can also be sign of endocrine-related tumors on your pituitary gland, adrenal glands, or ovary. Endometriosis is another serious condition that can affect your period. Problems like thyroid issues or eating disorders can also disrupt your menstrual cycle. Addressing these underlying problems directly will help you maintain a more healthy menstrual cycle as well as protect you from other major health concerns.

So if I could give women one piece of advice that would not only help them better understand their fertility, but also improve their overall health, it would be know your menstrual cycle. It’s easy, free, and critical. For more information about the power of the menstrual cycle, visit Rachel’s Well at To sum it up, Menstruation Matters. Period.


Evelina Weidman Sterling, PhD, MPH, CHES is the co-author of Budgeting for Infertility: How to Bring Home a Baby without Breaking the Bank along with several other best-selling and award-winning books about fertility, including Having Your Baby through Egg Donation, Living with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), and Before Your Time: Living Well with Premature Ovarian Failure and Early Menopause. She is also the co-founder of My Fertility Plan (, a new innovative company that provides patients with the information, skills, and tools they need to fully understand their own individual fertility and progress through their infertility treatments in the most effective and efficient ways possible.

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