Tips for Using Home Medical Tests
Visit a drugstore and you'll find lots of home health tests. This includes everything from blood pressure monitors to drug abuse detectors. As technology moves forward and consumers become more active in their health care, choices keep growing. But just because the tests exist doesn't mean they're right for you.
The question shouldn't be which brand is the most accurate. But, is a home health test right for me at all?
Still, some home tests can reduce doctor visits and medical costs. They also offer convenient, private access to valuable information about your health.
Just remember that all these tests are prone to error if done incorrectly. What's more, your body changes because of varying hormone levels, food intake, medications, and overall health. These things can affect test results. So tests can show you have a condition when you don't, or that you don't have a problem when you do.
Still see your doctor
Despite the benefits of home testing, you should be very careful when using these tests. Home tests are meant to help you with your health care, but they should not replace doctor visits. Many times, you should talk to your doctor even if you get normal test results. Most tests are best evaluated along with your medical history, a physical exam, and other testing. Always see your doctor if you are feeling sick, are worried about a possible medical problem, or if the test instructions tell you do so.
Here's what to keep in mind if you decide to take a home test:
Check the expire date. If it has passed, don't buy or use the product.
Only use tests that have been approved by the FDA.
Look for warnings on the package.
Keep tests out of children's reach.
Carefully read the test booklet. This includes directions on how to collect the sample, store the product, and any limits on usage.
Follow instructions precisely. Note any precautions listed. Some might include avoiding specific drugs or alcohol, foods, or physical activity before taking the test.
Don't change medications, treatments, or dosages based on home test results without talking with your doctor.
Talk with your doctor if you have any questions before taking the test. Talk again after, particularly if you're not sure you understand the meaning of the test results. Your doctor can check the results based on your symptoms and medical history, and advise you on right action to take.
This test yields a positive result when it detects a certain level of a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin in a woman's urine. Testing too soon after a missed period could give you a false negative (the test may wrongly show you're not pregnant.) For any negative result, repeat the test a week later. If pregnant, see your doctor for proper care.
Also see your doctor if you have abnormal pain or bleeding. This could be a sign of another condition, including infection, cancer, injury, or miscarriage.
Blood pressure monitor
High blood pressure has no symptoms. But measuring it at home several times over a period of days, will show if you have it.
If you do, visit your doctor to confirm a diagnosis and check for other problems. You should compare the home measurement with the one in your doctor's office to see if you get the same results. A measurement taken at home may be more accurate if you tend to feel anxious in the doctor's presence. Your doctor's office can also check your home equipment to make sure it’s accurate.
Blood glucose monitor
If you have diabetes, this test measures your blood glucose level. This can help you and your health care provider adjust your medication, insulin, diet, and exercise between visits.
Be sure you carefully follow the instructions for your device, and use the proper technique for getting the blood sample, inserting the testing sample into the meter, and reading the results.
Fecal occult blood test
This test detects any blood that may be in your stool. The presence of blood can point to conditions such as colorectal cancer. The test can record a false positive result if you:
If you eat red meat, raw turnips, radishes, broccoli or horseradish
Take vitamin C, aspirin, or anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen or naproxen
Don't eat these foods or take these medications for 7 days before you do the test.
Peak flow meter
If you have asthma, taking your peak flow should be a daily part of your self-management plan. Peak flow is measured by a peak flow meter. The peak flow meter shows how fast you can move the air out of your lungs. Daily peak flow measures are compared with your personal best peak flow number to find out if your asthma is getting worse or warn you that an asthma attack may occur. Your health care provider will teach you how to use a peak flow meter, can interpret peak flow readings, and help you develop a plan for managing the results.
A home HIV test offers you privacy. You collect the sample at home and send it to a lab. Results are available by phone using a code number to be sure you stay anonymous. Results show only if you have an HIV infection. They do not how advanced your disease is. If you get positive results, talk to your doctor so you can get proper counseling, monitoring and treatment. If you are at risk for HIV infection, even if your test results were negative, you should talk to your health care provider about ways to lower your risk
Other home tests
Other tests are available for home use. Check with your health care provider before buying or using any of these tests to see if they are right for you. Some tests sold online are unregulated, that is, being sold without FDA's knowledge. If you think that you have a health problem, see your doctor or health care provider. Don't try to diagnose yourself with questionable products you got over the Internet.
For more information
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration can offer more information on home medical tests:
- Fincannon, Joy, RN, MN
- Hanrahan, Maura, MD
- Holloway, Beth, RN, M.Ed.