Home health tests
The privacy of your own home can feel a more attractive prospect than a doctor's surgery, but there are lots of considerations to bear in mind when it comes to home testing. How can you choose the right one and can you trust the results?
Sales of health self-testing kits have increased dramatically over the last 10 years. With the popularity of the internet and the temptation to self-diagnose, it's not surprising that rising numbers of people are choosing to test themselves at home rather than making an appointment with their trusty doctor.
Range of testing kits
There is a huge array of products available and this can prove confusing. You can test for things such as cholesterol, diabetes, pregnancy, stomach ulcers and alcohol levels. Most home test kits are based on the principle of testing a droplet of blood. For others you may have to provide a urine sample in order to pick up traces of various markers for disease. These could be glucose (diabetes), white cells (urine infection), antibodies (stomach complaints) or hormones (pregnancy). There is also a bowel health check kit which can pick up traces of blood in the stools. But remember, a negative result doesn't necessarily rule out an illness and a positive one may not confirm it. If you are worried then the best thing you can do is talk things through with your doctor (GP).
Talk things through with your doctor
Other home testing kits include:
- Drink and drug levels;
- Blood pressure;
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs);
- Prostate disorders:
- Body fat.
Different tests will result in different levels of accuracy. For example, even though pregnancy tests rely on picking up pregnancy hormones and are very accurate if used correctly, the urine infection test kit will only pick up signals suggesting infection - not the bug causing the infection itself. This is why if you are unsure, it's always worth consulting your own doctor for advice if a home test picks something up.
"If you suspect any acute medical problem for which you would need specialist help, then it seems much more sensible to speak to your doctor first."
If you do choose to test yourself at home, you will need to equip yourself with the most reliable kit you can. It's generally advisable to buy a test kit from a reputable UK-based company with British Safety Standards accreditation (look for a kitemark or BS followed by digits, as you would on a condom packet). Always buy from a company that has contact details where you can seek help if you're unsure about how to do a test or what your result means. Generally speaking, most home kits are safe and reliable to use, but of course that is not the only consideration.
In most cases, home tests will be very similar to ones that would be given to you by your doctor. However, the two main differences from your point of view are the cost and the outcome. Tests are almost always provided for free when sought through your doctor, whereas prices online or at the chemist will vary.
Dangers of self-diagnosing
If you find evidence of a urine infection, or diabetes, what do you do about your result and how will you feel if it's negative? This is why it is generally much more useful to go to your GP, as they will be able to give you the advice and further care you need. "It's important to take an interest in the health of your body, and this should definitely be encouraged," says Dr Gemma Newman. "If you are interested in monitoring your own blood pressure for example, or finding out about your blood group then home testing can be very useful indeed. However, if you suspect any acute medical problem for which you would need specialist help, then it seems much more sensible to speak to your doctor first."
Above all, it's important to remember that a doctor will understand the overall implications of any condition or concern you may have, how it might affect you and whether there is anything you should be aware of. So make an appointment and set your mind at rest - it's the best course of action to take for your own health and you're sure to feel much better when you're given all of the relevant facts.
Written by Elizabeth Nicholls
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