Some at-home tests come with risks

July 9, 2008 6:03:43 AM PDT
You can do a home medical test for everything from pregnancy, cholesterol, even HIV. But some health experts say there are also risks and not all home diagnostic testing kit are necessarily useful tests for you. Jan Engle, pharmacist and executive associate dean with the UIC College of Pharmacy, shares the pros and cons to at-home test kits and shows us which ones to consider using.

In 1977, the first home diagnostic test for pregnancy was introduced to the consumer market. The market for home diagnostic products continues to grow with an expanded array of products and more user-friendly versions of established tests.

There are two types of tests:

  • Test Kit: you take your own sample, test the sample, and read your own results
  • Collection Kit: you take your own sample, mail it to a laboratory, and get your results over the phone or in the mail
Why use Home Testing?
  • "Diagnosis" - pregnancy, urinary tract infections, cholesterol, HIV, fecal occult blood
  • Monitoring of disease state/condition: diabetes, ovulation, cholesterol
Home Testing Pros:
  • Earlier identification of issue
  • Faster feedback
  • Anonymity
Home Testing Cons:
  • Incorrect performance of testes resulting in invalid results
  • Possibility of patient bias in test interpretation
  • Substitution of test results for health care provider evaluation and diagnosis
Examples of Home Diagnostic Products:

Pregnancy Test

  • Detect hormone (HCG) in the urine
  • Very accurate if test is done properly
  • Each brand has different instructions; read the directions for that particular test before doing it
  • False positives and negatives can occur
Ovulation Prediction Tests
  • Identifies peak in hormone (LH) that occurs shortly before ovulation
  • Start testing 2-4 days prior to expected ovulation (usually 14 days prior to onset of menses)
  • If cycles are variable, will need to calculate first day to test
  • Generally will need 4-5 tests to detect hormone surge; may need more if irregular cycles
  • Follow directions for the test you are using
Cholesterol Tests
  • Identifies elevated cholesterol levels; monitoring can provide feedback on interventions to somebody with elevated cholesterol levels
  • Can lull patients into false sense of security regarding other risk factors for cardiovascular disease
  • Patients with borderline or high results should seek medical attention
  • Ingestion of Vitamin C or acetaminophen within 4 hours of doing the test can interfere with the test results
  • Machines also available for those needed frequent assessments
HIV Tests
  • Not a true home test - collect sample at home and mail it to lab
  • Can provide an anonymous result - results identified through PIN
  • Disadvantages include lack of counseling regarding results; can have false negative due to lag time for development of HIV antibodies (up to 6 months after exposure)
Other tests available:
  • Urinary tract infection detectors
  • Urine and hair tests for illicit drug use
  • Menopause tests
  • Hepatitis C tests
  • C-Reactive Protein tests
  • Blood pressure monitors
  • Blood glucose monitors
Points to remember about all home diagnostic tests:
  • If your symptoms don't match the test results, don't discount them; talk to your primary care provider or pharmacist - no test is 100% accurate
  • Each test is unique in some way - read ALL of the directions before starting the test
  • Follow the instructions exactly as described and in sequence
  • Check the expiration date before your purchase the product to be sure it is not outdated
  • When selecting a test, consider simplicity of use
  • Most products provide toll free numbers for patients to call with questions
  • Your pharmacist is available to help you decide which test (if any) is best for your situation


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