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HOW GOOD ARE DIY HEALTH TESTING KITS?

HOW GOOD ARE DIY HEALTH TESTING KITS?

Want to know the best time of the month to conceive, or whether your partner’s sperm count is high enough to do so? Whether you have a urinary tract infection or a yeast infection? Whether your child is using drugs? These days, all it takes is a few drops of blood, urine or semen, or a snippet of hair, to find the answers – right in the privacy and convenience of your own bathroom. From identifying your blood type to detecting evidence of HIV, colon or rectal cancer, there’s an at-home medical test kit available at your nearest pharmacy to assist you.

According to the National Institutes of Health, one of the earliest written records of home testing was a urine-based pregnancy test used in ancient Egyptian times. The papyrus document describes a test in which a woman was able to determine pregnancy by urinating on wheat and barley seeds over the course of several days. If the barley grew, it meant that she was carrying a male child; the wheat’s growth indicated a female. And if neither grain grew, she was not pregnant. Although the ancient Egyptian test was unlikely to have had the 97-99 percent accuracy claimed by manufacturers of present home pregnancy tests first marketed to the public in 1978, like today’s kits, it identified a substance in a woman’s urine that was present only during pregnancy.

Today’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved home medical test kits are essentially the same ones that are used in your doctor’s office, said Shilpi Agarwal, MD, a board-certified family physician who practices in Los Angeles, California. And when used correctly, she added, they’re quite accurate. But before you decide to start playing doctor, she cautioned, it’s important to remember that your doctor’s office is a controlled environment, and the testing is performed by health professionals trained in the use of the test. “At home, there’s more room for error, which changes the accuracy of the test,” she said.

And while you may think that it’s cheaper to test yourself for a urinary tract infection at home rather than spending money going to the doctor, said Dr. Agarwal, “More often than not, you need to seek your physician’s care for treatment anyway.”

This means that you’ve spent $10.99 for the home test kit – plus the co-pay for a doctor’s visit, lab testing to confirm a diagnosis and any medication you may need.

And if the home test is negative? “You may get a false sense of security,” said Dr. Agarwal.

Just because the test result is negative at the moment, she explained, doesn’t mean that it is truly negative. For example, an HIV test kit measures the cells that your body’s immune system produces (antibodies) in response to being infected with the human immunodeficiency virus. This antibody response may take up to three months, or perhaps even longer, to become detectable in body fluids. So if you’ve been infected with the HIV virus and test yourself a month after the virus enters your body, you may get a negative result on the test – yet still be infected.

Still, under the right circumstances, home medical test kits can be helpful, said Florence Comite, MD, a Manhattan based endocrinologist and author of men’s health book, Keep It Up. “As people get more involved in their own health, these test kits can help them take better care of themselves,” she claimed. “But the crucial issue is that with testing, there are often treatment decisions to make, sometimes difficult decisions. This must be done in conjunction with a trusted health care professional.”

Dr. Agarwal agreed that home testing is useful in situations where there is already a diagnosis and need for 1393173854-DIYHealthmonitoring a chronic health condition at home in between physician visits. This includes glucose testing for diabetes, or urinary tract infection testing if you get frequent infections and are working with your physician to treat them. And of course, she added, home testing is appropriate in situations where you will follow up with your health provider immediately, such as with pregnancy testing.

One thing for certain, according to Dr. Comite, is that DIY testing is here to stay. “There are just going to be more and more tests available in the future,” she said. “You’ll be able to go to Walgreens and find a huge range of home medical tests.”

The upshot? If you’re intrigued by the thought of home medical tests, it may be good to have a discussion with your doc, who can explain the pros and cons of using them, help you to interpret the results and offer a post-testing treatment plan, if necessary. “The public has a right to understand and participate in their own health care,” said Dr. Comite. “And as a physician, I like that idea. But using a test alone in a vacuum can be overwhelming and frightening – and can do more harm than good. There has to be a balance.”

THE KITS
Self diagnostic kits may either be “Test Kits,” where you collect the sample, perform the test and read the results yourself, or “Collection Kits,” where you collect a sample, mail it to a laboratory and receive the results via phone or mail. While there are numerous test kits available in the United States, three popular ones are:

The Test: Allergy Test, “My Allergy Test” by Immunetech, FDA cleared
Cost: About $50, available at Walgreens, Walmart, Meijer
How it Works: Use provided lancet to collect a few drops of blood into a test tube, then mail the sample to a certified lab to be tested for 10 common allergens, including egg, milk, wheat, mold, dust mites, cat, ragweed, cedar and two types of grasses. Results are mailed to you or you may log on to a website to receive them.
Benefits: If you wonder what causes that drippy nose and watery eyes you get every spring, or if you wonder why every time you go to your cat-loving friend’s house you get a stuffy nose and a headache, you may be able to get some answers. You may also want to know whether you really have allergies before spending money on an allergist.
Limitations: There are a huge range of possible allergens, and the kit only tests for the 10 most common allergens.

The Test: Urinary Tract Infection Kit, including “AZO Test” by Amerefit and “Reveal” by Reveal, FDA cleared
Cost: $10-20, depending upon product. Available at CVS, Walmart, Walgreens, Target and other drugstores
How it Works: Dip a test strip into a sample of urine, or urinate onto the strip. Read results in 1-2 minutes. Test determines whether there are nitrites or leukocytes (white blood cells) in urine, both of which can be present when you have a urinary tract infection.
Benefits: Can be useful for determining whether your urinary tract infection is responding to the medication you were prescribed, or for early detection of urinary tract infections if you get frequent ones and are working with a physician to treat them.
Limitations: In some circumstances, you can have a negative result even if you have a urinary tract infection. Negative results in the presence of symptoms of a urinary tract infection may also indicate a more serious problem, such as a kidney stones or a tumor.

The Test: Male Fertility Test, “SpermCheckFertility” by Fairhaven health
Cost: $40, available online at Walgreens and CVS, will be available in drugstores beginning in April
How it Works: Combine a semen sample with solution in a bottle, then put drops of the mix on a test strip. The test looks for number of sperm, with a “positive” or normal result or a “negative” or low sperm count displayed in about 10 minutes.
Benefits: Although male factors contribute to infertility problems much of the time, many men fail to seek medical testing due to embarrassment. Testing at home for normal or abnormal sperm count can rule out one aspect of infertility.
Limitations: While sperm count is an important indicator of male fertility, the motility and viability of sperm is also important, neither of which the test measures.

TIPS FOR AT HOME MEDICAL TESTING

  • It’s important to use home medical testing kits safely and properly. Here are some tips from the U.S. Public Health Service and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA):
  • Buy your test kit from a reputable pharmacy or drugstore so you know that the kit has been cleared by the FDA. Some online sites sell test kits that are unapproved, which may not be accurate.
  • Check the expiration date on the home testing kit package before using, and don’t use it if it has expired.
  • Store your testing kit properly according to directions; exposure to extreme conditions may cause product deterioration.
  • Understand what the test is meant to do and not meant to do; tests are not always 100 percent accurate.
  • Read the testing instructions thoroughly before using the kit. Be aware of special instructions, such as avoiding certain foods before testing or using your first morning urine for the test.
  • If you don’t understand how to use the kit, call the 800 number on the package, or ask your pharmacist or your health care provider.
  • Follow the instructions exactly; don’t skip steps.
  • Use an accurate timing device for tests that require timing.
  • Report positive results to your health care provider and ask for follow up advice.
  • If results are negative and you still have symptoms or concerns, see your health care provider. MS&F


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