DIY Doctor – Health Screenings
You can test almost anything at home, but should you?
When you feel a weird ache or other mysterious symptom, you want to know right away what’s causing it. That’s why we’re so quick to Google symptoms or grab kinds of self-screening diagnostic and monitoring kits at drugstores and online – and they can seem like a fast, private way to find out what’s going on with your body. But they’re not always a good idea, even though the Food and Drug Administration requires companies to demonstrate that their home tests are safe and effective. Also, a home test should never replace a doctor’s visit. ShopSmart reviewed the latest research and consulted with experts to find out which ones make sense, and which ones don’t.
Blood Glucose Test
Who it’s for People with type 1 diabetes (The benefits are less clear for people with type 2 diabetes)
Why it works Regular readings can help patients adjust their diet, exercise, and insulin doses. That reduces the risk of health problems that stem from poorly controlled blood sugar, including blindness and nerve damage.
Price $20 for the Accu-Check Compact Plus, which topped the most recent tests.
Who it’s for People with high or borderline-high blood pressure
Why it works Doing several readings over a week is the best way to stay on top of the condition. Another benefit: no risk of “white coat hypertension”, or elevated readings at your doctor’s office because of nerves.
Price Top-rated in the latest tests: the 7 series BP652 wrist monitor ($60) and the Omron 10 Series BP785 arm monitor ($80).
Fecal Occult Blood Test
Who it’s for Adults 50 and older, 45 and older for African-Americans; 40 for people with a family history of polyps or colon cancer
Why it works This test, which should be done annually between routine colonoscopies, can be even more effective than an in-office test. That’s mainly because the office test analyzes only one stool sample; the FDA and medical experts recommend three tests over a day or two.
Price Around $10 for the EZ Detect Fecal Occult Blood Test
Who it’s for Sexually active adults who aren’t in a long-term, monogamous relationship
Why it works If you’re shy about asking your doc for one, a home kit let you keep it private
Price $44 for the Home Access HIV test, the only one approved by the FDA
Who it’s for Women who may have the condition
Why it works The test measures vaginal pH and can detect an infection but can’t necessarily tell what kind it is. Sometimes infection can be treated with an over-the-counter drug. But see a doc if symptoms don’t improve.
Price $17 for the Vagisil kit
Who it’s for People with diabetes (type 1 or type 2)
Why you should skip it This test measures glycated hemoglobin, or HbA1c, an indicator of average blood glucose over the previous two to three months. That can be a useful tool for managing diabetes. But “there’s nothing the patient can do with the results at home”. Better to have it done in your doctor’s office, along with tests to monitor kidney function, blood pressure, circulation, and other measures of health.
Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH) Test
Who it’s for Women in perimenopause
Why you should skip it If you’re having irregular periods, hot flashes, or other symptoms associated with menopause, checking for an increase in FSH in your urine can help confirm that menopause is underway. But even if yoru FSH level is high and you’re in perimenopause, you are still ovulating intermittently and can still become pregnant.
Who it’s for People who are monitoring their cholesterol
Why you should skip it Your total cholesterol reading – which includes HDL (good) and LDL (bad) numbers – is only one of several factors doctors use to determine whether to prescribe a cholesterol-lowering statin drug. Unlike blood glucose and blood pressure, cholesterol levels don’t change much from day to day and don’t require frequent dosage adjustments.
C-Reactive Protein Test
Who it’s for People looking for any signs of heart disease
Why you should skip it C-reactive protein is a marker of inflammation that’s linked to rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and coronary artery disease. But the tests can be hard to read and haven’t proved to be effective.
Urinary-Tract Infection Test
Who it’s for People who suspect they have the condition
Why you should skip it Home-test results are helpful only if your doctor is willing to call in a prescription for antibiotics without seeing you, which many are not.