Are DIY testing kits medically sound?

TECHNOLOGY has spread into so many areas of our lives, perhaps it was inevitable that this would eventually include medical testing. So which tests — if any — are worth doing?

“There are a bewildering array of self-tests out there, and the great difficulty patients have is knowing whether the test is appropriate for them, if they can trust the results, and what do the results mean for them,” says GP Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard. 

“There are many tests that don’t have clear yes and no answers, and frequently give a a borderline result, so what do you do with it? That’s when you need a bit of medical help and expertise.

“If you’re worried enough to buy a test,” she adds, “then perhaps you should think about going to see your GP instead.”

Here, she offers her advice on a selection of self-tests...

Fertility tests:

Various home tests are also available, testing either blood or urine for ovarian function or ovarian reserve hormones.

Dr Stokes-Lampard warns: “The number of eggs you store is quite specialist territory, and I’d be wary of trusting your future fertility to a [home] test kit.”

Prostate cancer:

These tests involve checking blood through a home finger-prick for prostate specific antigen (PSA), which is released by some prostate cancers.

While some men with prostate cancer will have a high PSA reading, many won’t. Plus, some men with a completely normal prostate will have a high PSA reading. 

Dr Stokes-Lampard says any test results should be considered in conjunction with all other symptoms, and a rectal examination by an expert.

“These tests in isolation can be misleading, or they can provide a false reassurance, letting people think they haven’t got a problem when they actually have. 

"It’s dangerous to have false reassurance from a test and then leave it months or years before you go to see someone, by which time a lot more damage could have been done.”

Bowel cancer:

Home-screening kits are also available and involve testing for blood in the faeces. Some require samples to be sent off in the post, while others boast instant digital results.

“It’s a helpful test to a certain extent,” says Dr Stokes-Lampard. “But if you’re worried you might have bowel cancer, then you really need to be speaking to a healthcare professional.”

High blood pressure:

Various automatic home blood pressure testing devices are available, although it’s important to choose a home monitor that’s been clinically validated. 

“As long as people read the instructions, do it properly and repeat the reading, then home blood pressure testing can be really helpful,” says Dr Stokes-Lampard.

Cholesterol:

Although six out of 10 adults have raised cholesterol, medics don’t endorse home-testing, as it’s a skilled job and results can be affected by the way the test is performed.

“Cholesterol testing in isolation isn’t helpful, unless you’ve got a strong family history,” explains Dr Stokes-Lampard. 

“Having raised cholesterol is just another risk factor for health problems, like being overweight, smoking or not doing enough exercise.

"I would urge people to lead a healthier lifestyle, rather than worry about testing for specific cholesterol numbers.”


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