/ Health

Are self-test health kits a waste of money?

Heart on blackboard

It’s great to get the all clear from the GP when you’re worried about your health. But now, with self-test health kits, you can now do it yourself at home. But is this always a good idea?

We’re all being encouraged to take responsibility for our own health, so with DIY tests available in high street chemists and online, should you pick them up along with your paracetemol and tissues?

We decided to investigate these self-test kits and, let’s just say, they didn’t get a clean bill of health. We looked at kits that were aimed at conditions like prostate and bowel cancer, stomach ulcers, and urinary tract infections, as well as measuring blood glucose and cholesterol levels (associated with diabetes and heart disease).

Disappointingly we uncovered instructions that were either unclear, or didn’t give enough detail on taking samples. Plus, our experts found that there wasn’t always enough information on the box, making it difficult to decide whether it was the right product for you.

I’m no doctor, so I’d be relying on crystal clear directions to make sure I used the test properly and didn’t do anything that would affect the final result. But even the medical professionals assessing these kits found some of them difficult to use.

Dangers of a false-negative result

What if one of these tests give you a false result? At best you might be worried or frightened unnecessarily. For example, tests for stomach ulcers measure the presence of particular bacteria, but only a minority of people with the bacteria actually get a stomach ulcer. However, at worst, a false-negative might stop you from getting medical help as early as possible.

We interviewed a group of men who disliked the idea of going to the doctor for a prostate cancer test. They said they would rely on a negative home test result rather than visit their GP. But the tests themselves are only one part of a diagnosis, and doctors will take other symptoms and lifestyle into account.

High cholesterol, for example, is linked to an increased risk of coronary artery disease, but it can also be a symptom of an under active thyroid. A doctor can tell you if that’s the case; a test result can’t.

Go to your doctor instead

I can see the attraction of putting my mind at rest without sorting out convenient doctor’s appointments. But, if I’m honest, I’d only be comfortable without a doctor being there to talk me through the implications if I had a good result.

We found that many self-tests would need to be followed up by a visit to the GP anyway, so I’m finding it hard to see the benefit of paying for them in the first place, even if they are only between £5 and £16.

Having the choice to manage my own health is a good thing, but I don’t think I’ll be taking DIY health tests until I can be confident that I’ll always get full and clear information on whether I need a test, how to use it and what the results mean. What about you?

Chris Jowitt says:
26 March 2011

I don’t think these self test kits can be a bad thing. If I had symptoms, I might initially resort to one of these kits. If it showed there was cause for concern it would confirm my need to see a doctor. If, on the other hand, it gave a negative result, it would be unwise of me to rely on the self test results if the symptoms continued. In this respect you are correct that there is little point in the self test.
However, say I have no symptoms but merely check for certain problems occasionally. If it shows positive at this point and I visit my doctor, surely it has been a benefit.

As a diabetic I can’t help noticing that from time-to-time there are special offers for glucose meters that make them cheaper than the one-off testing kits.

Dorrie says:
26 March 2011

I have used Boots blood glucose and cholesterol testing kits, but found it difficult to get enough blood from my finger for the tests. I have been aware for a long time that I have high blood cholesterol and would like to reduce it, but without taking pills. I have a low opinion of doctors anyway, so do not see the point of going to my GP who would probably prescribe medication which I do not want. The Boots cholesterol kit does not distinguish between good cholesterol and bad cholesterol which to my thinking would be the only point of a professional test.

Bee says:
30 March 2011

I used the Biocard Coeliac kit 3 years ago as a last result, having very poor health. It was positive. I had symptoms for 40 years, but had never been tested by GPs, was given various diagnoses, latest ME, and had also been made to feel it was all in the mind. Since then my health has improved dramatically, so I am very much in favour of this test.

Dr Frankenfurter says:
31 March 2011

Once when in Boots a customer bought a blood pressure meter. After the person left I asked the sales assistant if she bothered to ask about how to use it correctly? You are much better going to your GP in the first instance rather than rely on these unreliable tests. Might as well read the entrails of an owl!

I bought a blood pressure gauge from Boots and did not need advice from the sales assistant as the leaflet inside explained all I needed to know.

The reason I bought the gauge was due to a diagnosis of high blood pressure by my GP following a single cursory blood pressure test.

After a number of readings of my blood pressure over a couple of weeks at different times I was shown not to have high blood pressure at all.

Fortunately I had taken none of the prescribed tablets my GP had given me or I would have had to remain on them due to the way the medication works.

Give me the right equipment and information to look after myself ever time. My health matters more to me than to my GP.

Maggie says:
13 July 2017

I have found that making regular visits to Lloyds Pharmacy inside the bigger Sainsbury’s for regular cholesterol and blood glucose checks has been useful. The cholesterol checks do indicate HDl & LDL levels that are most useful. The test costs £9 (and is usually on offer FOC one month of the year). I avoid crowded waiting rooms this way and feel I’m getting a professional service as it is always the same two lady assistants at the supermarket I visit.. Just a thought…