I Tried a Diagnostic Menstrual Pad to Learn More About My Health — Here’s How It Went

Fitness

There are approximately 1.8 billion people who menstruate around the world. That means that on any given day, millions of people are on their periods — and not only is that a lot of blood, it’s also a lot of information about our bodies that ends up getting thrown away. Until now.

In January, the biotech and research company Qvin received FDA clearance for their Q-pad — a menstrual pad that can monitor key health information using only period blood. Right now, that FDA clearance is specifically for the A1C Q-pad kit ($49), which tests for blood sugar levels. But the potential is pretty limitless. Sara Naseri, MD, researcher, co-founder, and CEO of Qvin says menstrual blood can be used to check thyroid levels, screen for diabetes and pre diabetes, track key fertility hormones, monitor hemoglobin for conditions like anemia, and test for markers of inflammation like C-reactive protein (CRA).

“We’re really excited about making health care accessible for women,” says Dr. Naseri. “The fact that you can actually get information about your health on your own terms as a woman [is] really is empowering.”

Additionally, 2022 research conducted by Dr. Naseri and published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology found that menstrual pads were an accurate way to test for human papillomavirus (HPV), a type of sexually transmitted infection that can cause cervical cancer. Not only is this great news for people who struggle with needles during routine blood work, but menstrual blood may eventually replace your annual pap smear as the go-to preventative screening measure.

Granted, as one of the billions of menstruators walking the earth, I was pretty excited when I heard about all the possible insights my period might offer. It’s been a while since I’ve had blood work done, so I saw the appeal of getting lab-tested results without the hassle of actually going to see a doctor. But in all honesty, I was also a bit skeptical. Would the pad actually be effective? How uncomfortable is it to use? Historically, claims about needle-free blood work haven’t always worked out (yes, I’m thinking about tech founder Elizabeth Holmes and the entire Theranos debacle.) But I figured if I’m going to be on my period regardless, why not take the opportunity to learn something?

So, I decided to put my period to good use and test out the Q-pads myself. Here’s my experience.

How the Q-Pads Work

The Q-pad is an entirely at-home and app-based process. The idea is you use the Q-pads, send your samples off to the lab, and receive your results on the app.

For starters, the kit was delivered to my apartment — I got the VIP kit that tests for a whole spectrum of biomarkers including average blood sugar, ovarian reserve, ovulation health, menstrual health, and thyroid function. The kit included an instructions pamphlet, two cotton pads, a resealable plastic storage container for the testing strips, and a pre-paid return envelope.

The first thing I did was download the Qvin app on my phone, which is essential for setting up your testing kit and receiving your lab results. I used the QR code on the box to link my Q-pads with my account, which was a no-fuss process since the app was pretty sleek and intuitive to use. From there, I took a look at the Q-pads, which looked and felt like normal cotton pads with two exceptions. First, there was an oval marked on the pad, which indicated how much blood needed to saturate the pad before you could remove it. Second, there was a thin, removable collection strip inside the pad with a pull tab peeking out from the front of the tab. When I saw the collection strip, I was worried about discomfort, but it wasn’t an issue. Thankfully, I couldn’t feel the collection strip at all and the Q-pad felt comparable to wearing a typical medium-flow pad.

The only annoying part of the pad was the lack of wings or sticky underside that help keep everything in place and prevent leaks. To solve this, I wore a pair of tight spandex shorts over my underwear and just took extra care when undressing.

From there, everything was pretty straightforward. I used the first Q-pad until my menstrual blood fully covered the oval which took about 3 or 4 hours (like a normal pad, you shouldn’t wear the Q-pad for more than 8 hours, even if you haven’t entirely saturated the oval), then removed the collection strip, threw out the pad like normal, and placed the strip in the storage container. I switched to the second Q-pad immediately after and repeated the process. Once I had both test strips ready and in the container, I used the pre-paid envelope and mailed everything off. There is a bit of a time crunch, though. In order to ensure your sample is usable for lab testing, you should mail your sample within 72 hours of use.

What I Liked About Q-Pads

About two weeks after sending in my sample, my test results were uploaded to the app. For each biomarker, I got the specific results (for example I learned my exact blood sugar level) as well as if my results were low, high, or in the normal range. Other tests — like the anti-mullerian hormone — came with extra information and even short, explanatory videos from doctors to help you understand and interpret your results. After watching the video, I understood what my results meant: the anti-mullerian hormone helps measure my reproductive health and corresponds with ovarian reserve, or the quantity of eggs in my ovaries.

While I didn’t learn anything groundbreaking about my body — for example, fertility isn’t important to me and I don’t have any chronic conditions like diabetes that need regular blood work — I did get a surprising sense of relief that I could access my results so easily and “check in” with my body and overall reproductive health. I also felt a really nice sense of control about my health information as well, because I didn’t need to see a doctor to take the test or understand my results. Moving forward, I’d like to continue investing in healthcare tools and options that allow me a sense of agency — especially because my experience with healthcare providers, like many people’s, have been very negative at times.

Overall, I felt like I could understand my test results and I felt the results were valuable and diverse — sort of like an overall check-in. I also liked the option to email results directly to a doctor through the app, which is super beneficial for someone like me, who often struggles to follow up with my doctor or get the conversation started.

What to Consider Before Trying Q-Pads

For me, the Q-pads were super convenient, very easy to use, and the results were useful and interesting. But there are some things to consider to make sure you get the most out of your testing kit.

First, you should make sure you’re comfortable with the idea of collecting and sharing your menstrual blood. For me, I experienced absolutely zero “ick” factor about the testing strips or pads. Nothing felt messy or weird for me — it’s way less messy or invasive than using a menstrual cup or disk for example — but it’s possible that some people may feel a little uncomfortable with the process.

Second, timing is a big consideration on the Q-pad’s effectiveness. Ideally, you should be using both pads when your flow is heavy, days 2-4. You don’t need a ton of blood (my flow was lighter than normal and my results still came back fine.) But if you miss that window, you may not bleed enough to get results back or you may simply miss your window for the month and have to wait until your next cycle. Likewise, you have to make sure you send out your sample within 72 hours or it may become unviable during shipping.

The other thing to note about the app experience is that it is very geared towards cis women. A lot of the language, information, and results assumes that only women need this sort of health information. Given how disparities so deeply impact queer and trans folks’ access to healthcare, it does seem like an oversight that the app and products don’t reflect the diversity of people who menstruate, which includes queer, nonbinary, and transmasculine people.

Finally, it’s important to note that Q-pads are not covered by insurance — which has its pros and cons. The good part is that you don’t need to pay for a doctor’s appointment or prescription to use Q-pads or get your results from a Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) certified lab. But it does mean that if you want to use Q-pads over time, or every month, the out-of-pocket costs can add up. In the meantime, Dr. Naseri says Qvin is working on integrating insurance coverage for their testing kits as soon as possible.

Are Q-pads Worth It?

Q-pads are a straightforward, relatively low-cost testing option for people who want to know more about their health, track key hormones and biomarkers over time, or avoid more invasive blood tests. Right now, only the A1C Q-Pad Kit is available for purchase from Qvin’s website. This is ideal for people who want to monitor their blood sugar levels or who may have been previously diagnosed with diabetes or pre diabetes.

For people interested in a more diverse set of biomarkers — like my kit which gives insights on my reproductive and hormonal health in addition to blood sugar but is not yet available for purchase — it may be worth trying out the AIC kit just to get comfortable with the process or simply holding off until Qvin rolls out expanded kits.

Where Are Q-Pads Available?

The A1C Q-Pad Kit is available to buy directly at the brand’s website, qvin.com.


Sara Youngblood Gregory was a contributing staff writer for POPSUGAR Wellness. She covers sex, kink, disability, pleasure, and wellness. Sara serves on the board of the lesbian literary and arts journal, Sinister Wisdom. Her work has been featured in Vice, HuffPost, Bustle, DAME, The Rumpus, Jezebel, and many others. Sara’s debut nonfiction work, “The Polyamory Workbook,” about navigating ethical nonmonogamy, is out now.

Image Source: Courtesy of Sara Youngblood Gregory

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