The Benefits and Drawbacks of Home Test Kits
The home testing boom began in the 1970s with pregnancy tests. Now there are quick and simple tests for ovulation, too. You can monitor your blood pressure as well as test for HIV, colon cancer, hepatitis C, deteriorating vision, and urinary tract infections. Some products provide instantaneous results, whereas others are sample collection devices that need to be mailed to a laboratory for processing.
What is the Draw?
Consumers like home testing because it is convenient. A simple quick test at home avoids a trip to the doctor's office, which can take a large chunk of time. Home testing is also anonymous. You may get fast results, or have to set up a private personal identification number (PIN). Either way, the results are for you alone.
Critics say some kits promote undue fear and are a waste of time and money because they are unreliable or give false results if not done correctly. However, the increasing desire of consumers to detect potential health problems early is making the home testing trend widespread.
If you are looking into home testing, here is some information about what tests are available and how they work.
A home test kit is available to test for the hepatitis C virus. The over-the-counter blood collection kit tests for antibodies to the virus. With this home collection kit, you can collect a blood sample and mail it to a lab for testing. Results take about a week. Each test comes with a PIN, a lancet, sample card, and a prepaid envelope for mailing the sample to the lab. You must first register your kit by calling the toll-free number and entering the kit's PIN, providing anonymous and confidential testing. Counselors are available 24 hours a day to talk with you before and after using the kit. Studies done by Home Access Health Corporation (the distributor) show that test results with the kit are similar to the results for blood drawn by a healthcare professional.
The test shows whether you have ever contracted the hepatitis C virus, unless you were exposed in the previous six months, in which case it may be too early to detect the virus. However, it does not show whether the infection is active now. This must be determined by your doctor with additional testing.
Millions of Americans are infected with HIV-1. Barriers to testing include fear, inconvenience, and a lack of anonymity. There are two ways to test for HIV, through saliva or blood. Both tests are anonymous.
The OraQuick In-Home test allows the user to test for HIV-1 or HIV-2 antibodies by using a saliva sample. The test is fast, with results in under 45 minutes. Testing can be done by anyone aged 17 and older.
The Home Access test samples blood for HIV-1 antibodies. It requires that the user send a small blood sample to a laboratory after setting up a PIN number. Results from the blood test can take up to a week, depending on where the sample is shipped from. If you use this test, you must be aged 18 or older.
Home testing for HIV provides fairly quick and anonymous results. Remember that test results, if misinterpreted or false, can lead to stress and confusion. Make sure that you follow up with your doctor, no matter what the results are.
Fecal Occult Blood Testing
The American Cancer Society and American Gastroenterological Association recommend that people aged 50 and older who have a normal risk for developing colon cancer should test be screened for colon cancer. One way to do this is to be tested yearly for blood in the stool. Other screening options include sigmoidoscopy every 5 years, colonoscopy every 10 years, CT colonography every 5 years, or barium enema every 5 years. Colon cancer is preventable and treatable if caught early.
There are different products available for at-home testing for blood in the stool. These are toilet bowl tests, which do not require any handling of the stool. Cleaning agents or toilet bowl fresheners may interfere with the test. The tests kits provide control pads to test the conditions in the toilet bowl and pads for testing three consecutive bowel movements. False negative results may occur if you take more than 250 milligrams of vitamin C during the test period.
Testing for blood in the stool is not a specific test for colorectal cancer. Many patients with colorectal cancer do not have positive fecal occult blood tests, and other conditions may cause blood to appear in the stool, including peptic ulcer disease, colitis, diverticulitis, hemorrhoids, and anal fissure.
Test Kit Guidelines
When using home test kits, you are self-testing, not self-diagnosing. Remember, as with all home screening, monitoring, or family planning products, you should consult a physician if you have a positive result or are uncomfortable with the result.
Regardless of which at-home test kit you use, certain guidelines should be followed:
Familydoctor.org, American Academy of Family Physicians
United States Food and Drug Administration
Canadian Public Health
The College of Canadian Family Physicians
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Last reviewed January 2013 by Brian Randall, MD