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Guide Health: What you need to know about home testing

With any home test, check to make sure you know what it actually tests for, and that you are aware of its limitations

Home tests give you information about your health or medical condition while enabling you to maintain your privacy. Some home tests are commonly used. Think about the blood glucose or sugar tests you use if you have diabetes, or the pregnancy and fertility tests that help you with family planning.

The idea is to help you participate in and even manage your health care. However, some home tests are somewhat more controversial.

Home drug tests for illicit drugs may only tell you if the illicit drug is present, not in what quantity, and some other drugs such as pain relievers and cough and cold remedies may give you a false reading.

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Cholesterol tests do measure your total cholesterol, but not the various types of lipids that make up that total. If you have high good cholesterol (that is, high-density lipoproteins or HDLs) and low bad cholesterol (that is, low-density lipoproteins or LDLs), your reading may be high even though your lipid profile is “good.”

With any home test, check to make sure you know what it actually tests for, and that you are aware of its limitations.

You also want to make sure that your physician or nurse knows that you are testing at home as they may be able to help you make better sense of the results and check for the accuracy of the test. For example, if you are measuring your blood pressure at home, then when your physician or nurse measures your blood pressure in the office you will have some idea of how accurate your home blood pressure monitor is.

Some home tests are sold online, but before you purchase them check to make sure that you are not going to be spending your money on something that you can’t test. Also be sure the home test is a valid test.

For example, there are tests sold online for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease. This is a condition that even neurologists find difficult to diagnose.

If the home test requires you to mail away a sample, make sure that the sample is sent correctly. You should be able to telephone or ask via the internet about any special packaging and the turnaround time for results. Also ask about confidentiality.

Some examples of home tests include, as mentioned above, blood glucose, blood pressure, pregnancy, fertility, and illicit drug screening. Others include menopause, alcohol, blood clotting, celiac disease, and fecal occult blood, also known as the “poop test.”

While these are the home tests most often used in health care, many others are available including genetic testing. Most are available without a prescription and are considered a personal expense, that is, they are not covered by health insurance.

If you are considering using a home test, do some research to ensure that you are not spending your money on something that your doctor or nurse may check on a routine basis or that is useless. For example, there are skin cancer tests to help you monitor any of your skin “spots” that may be growing or changing, but you can do the same by circling any spots on your skin in indelible ink and observing any changes over time.

Keep in mind that the majority of incorrect results are caused by user mistakes, which normally result when you haven’t followed the steps correctly. Read all the instructions, don’t use an expired home test, test in a clean space that is well lit, and make sure you have the manual dexterity and eyesight needed. And if timing is required, use an accurate clock or watch.

The good thing about home testing is that you are taking steps to become more involved in your health — keep up the good work!

About the author

Contributor

Marie Berry is a lawyer/pharmacist interested in health and education.

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