At-home tests put to the test

June 18, 2012 4:53:28 PM PDT
Do-it-yourself medical tests are becoming more popular. They let you test for all kinds of ailments from high cholesterol to hypertension -- all in the comfort of home. But while some at-home tests can be very helpful, others aren't a good idea.

Stephanie Paulmeno takes a blood glucose reading every day. It's the key to controlling her diabetes.

"I think that the home tests are so important because it gives you an opportunity to see how you're regulating your own blood sugar," she said.

Glucose kits to manage diabetes at home are useful. So are blood-pressure monitors, and doctors encourage people with hypertension or borderline hypertension to use them.

But Consumer Reports says other tests could lead you astray, like one kit to let women know menopause is underway.

"Women in their late 40s and 50s might interpret those results to mean they no longer need birth control, and that could result in an unwanted pregnancy," a Consumer Reports expert said.

Other home tests have questionable value, including ones that screen for high cholesterol levels.

"These tests measure total cholesterol, but you still need a doctor to interpret the results for you and to tell you what to do about it," the expert said.

And you may need to consult your physician with this test, too. It will uncover a urinary tract infection, but you need a prescription if you get a positive result.

"You really have to know in advance whether your doctor is willing to prescribe over the phone. Many are not willing to do that," the expert said.

Paulmeno touches base with her doctor regularly. Even when at-home tests are recommended, they are not a replacement for professional medical care.

Consumer Reports on Health says another home test you can skip is one that looks for early signs of heart disease. It detects a marker called C-reactive protein. The problem is the tests can be hard to read and haven't proven to be effective.


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