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Tips for Using Home Medical Tests

Visit a drugstore and you'll find lots of home health tests--everything from blood pressure monitors to drug abuse detectors. As technology advances and consumers become more actively involved in their healthcare, options 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 appropriate for me?

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 administered incorrectly. What's more, because your body changes because of varying hormone levels, food intake, medications, and overall health, tests can indicate you have a condition when you don't, or that you don't have a condition when you do.

Still see your doctor

Despite the benefits of home testing, you should take precautions when using home-use tests. Home-use tests are intended to help you with your health care, but they should not replace periodic visits to your doctor. Many times, you should talk to your doctor even if you get normal test results. Most tests are best evaluated together 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 condition, or if the test instructions recommend you do so.

Here's what to keep in mind if you decide to take a home test:

  • Check the expiration 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 literature including directions on how to collect the sample, store the product, and any limitations on usage.

  • Follow instructions precisely. Note any precautions listed, such as avoiding specific drugs or alcohol, foods, or physical activity before taking the test.

  • Don't change medications, treatments, or dosages based on a home test without talking with your doctor.

  • Talk with your doctor if you have any questions before taking the test, and talk again afterward, particularly if you're not sure you understand the meaning of the test results. Your doctor can evaluate the results based on your symptoms and medical history, and advise you on appropriate action to take.

Pregnancy test

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 erroneously indicate 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 experience 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 this measurement, taken several times over a period of days, will indicate 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 monitoring equipment to verify its accuracy.

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 obtaining 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 indicate conditions such as colorectal cancer. The test can record a false positive result if you have hemorrhoids, are menstruating, or if you eat red meat, raw turnips, radishes, broccoli or horseradish, or take vitamin C, aspirin, or anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen or naproxen. Don't eat these foods or take these medications for seven 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 determine 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.

HIV test

A home HIV test offers the ultimate in privacy. You collect the specimen at home and send it to a lab. Results are available by phone using a code number to ensure your anonymity. Results indicate only if you have an HIV infection, not how advanced your disease is. If you get positive results, talk to your doctor so you can receive proper counseling, monitoring and medical treatment. If you are at risk for HIV infection, even if your test results were negative, you should talk to your health care provider to discuss ways to decrease your risk

Additional home tests

Other tests are available for home use, but you should 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 medical condition or disease, see your doctor or health care professional. Don't try to diagnose yourself with questionable products obtained over the Internet.

For more information

These agencies can offer more information on home medical tests: