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article imageNatural Cycles birth control app under fire over pregnancies

By Karen Graham     Jan 18, 2018 in Technology
Remember the Natural Cycles Smartphone app that came out last year? It was certified by the European Union and was the only app to be called a form of "contraception" in Europe. The start-up company is now under fire for 37 unwanted pregnancies.
The app was developed by a Higgs Boson physicist, Elina Berglund who had worked on the Large Hadron Collider. She and her husband launched the Natural Cycles app in 2014 in Sweden.
Berglund says it wasn't that much of a jump from her previous work. "Instead of looking for the Higgs particle, you’re looking at women’s temperatures and fertility data, which is a lot of fun,” she said at the time.
Natural Cycles app
Natural Cycles is basically a mobile-based app that is used in combination with a conventional basal thermometer to identify ovulation and, hence, the fertile window. The app requires that the woman enters a precise body-temperature measurement first thing every morning, taken with a highly reliable basal thermometer.
Oral contraceptives with Dial dispenser.
Oral contraceptives with Dial dispenser.
BetteDavisEyes / Wikipedia
Details of menstruation also need to be entered. On days when the chance of getting pregnant is high, a red light will indicate either abstaining from intercourse or using some form of birth control. Conversely, a green light indicates the woman is supposedly safe from the risk of getting pregnant.
At the time the app came out, some physicians who specialize in obstetrics and gynecology questioned what they called the "unrealistically high" success rate published by Natural Cycles in 2016.
Dr. Nathaniel DeNicola, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at The George Washington University's School of Medicine & Health Sciences, pointed out the company's study concluded the failure rate was only 0.5 percent.
But he says this was based on the app's "perfect use rate," meaning it applies only to people who use the app perfectly, following the directions to the letter every day.
He said this is misleading. That perfect use rate is "probably the last number that should be out there, because the data really isn't close to supporting that" for typical users, DeNicola said.
App under fire from unwanted pregnancies
Natural Cycles has been reported to Sweden’s Medical Products Agency (MPA) after the women’s clinic, Södersjukhuset, in Stockholm, Sweden recorded 37 unwanted pregnancies among women who said they had been using the app as their contraception method, according to TechCrunch.
Condoms in use today have changed very little in the last 400 years.
Condoms in use today have changed very little in the last 400 years.
“We want the Swedish Medicines Agency to gather information about side effects, such as unwanted pregnancies, and look at how the app works,” said Lena Marions, a senior doctor at the clinic and associate professor in obstetrics and gynecology.
According to Swedish news agency SVT, the clinic found that 37 out of 668 female patients who sought an abortion between September and December 2017 had been using Natural Cycles.
Sweden's Medical Products Agency has launched a probe. A spokeswoman told Business Insider the investigation was still in the early stages. As for Natural Cycles, a spokesman for the company said the app is "comparable" to other forms of contraception.
Abortion in Europe
Abortion in Europe
, Graphic/AFP
"Natural Cycles has a Pearl Index of 7, which means it is 93% effective at typical use, which we also communicate," he said. "Our studies have repeatedly shown that our app provides a high level of effectiveness similar to other methods."
The firm is working with the MPA and has not spoken with anyone at the women's clinic. They are also conducting an internal investigation. They do say the numbers of unwanted pregnancies are not a surprise, considering the popularity of the app in Europe.
"As our user base increases, so will the number of unintended pregnancies coming from Natural Cycles app users, which is an inevitable reality," the spokesman said. The app is used by hundreds of thousands of British women, according to statistics from Google Play.
The app was launched in the UK in 2016, and last year was granted a CE mark, which means it meets EU standards for medical devices. The mark is a legal requirement for anyone wanting to sell medical devices within the union.
More about contraceptive app, natural cycles, Family planning, pregancies, Smartphone
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