Are at-home medical tests reliable?

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Are at-home medical tests reliable?

At-home medical test kits are plentiful and easy to get online and in stores. But are they reliable?

A multitude of test kits are available, ranging from illicit drug and food sensitivity tests to thyroid and liver function tests. The kits can monitor or test for certain diseases and conditions, are fast, and confidential.

One of the most notable at-home tests in recent years is for COVID-19. However, home-testing kits have been available for decades, including those for pregnancy and blood sugar.

Most test kits involve taking a sample of a body fluid, such as blood, urine, saliva, or mucus, and applying it to the kit as directed. Others involve a hair sample. Some tests provide immediate results, while others need to be packaged and mailed to a lab. Many kits are available without a prescription, while others are prescribed by a healthcare provider.

According to the University of Michigan’s 2022 National Poll on Healthy Aging, nearly half of the adults surveyed (age 50 to 80) have purchased at least one at-home medical test. Four in five showed an interest in doing so again.

At-home medical tests can provide helpful information but are not a replacement for guidance and treatment by a healthcare provider, according to the National Library of Medicine. After using an at-home test kit, individuals should follow up with their healthcare provider regardless of the result.

When purchasing an at-home test kit, the National Library of Medicine recommends the following:

  • Use only test kits that are approved or authorized by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The agency has strict requirements for quality and accuracy in home test kits and has approved 500 over-the-counter tests.
  • Follow test instructions exactly. Even minor deviations can affect results.
  • Do not buy or use expired tests. Chemicals in the test may lose their effectiveness over time.

To ensure the safety and effectiveness of home tests, the FDA further recommends contacting the manufacturer with any questions. It advises people to call their healthcare provider if test results seem questionable. Also, do not change medications or dosages based on a home test without talking to your provider.

Consumer Reports warns some tests are not reliable and should be avoided. For example, the FDA generally does not review what it considers “wellness” tests. These tests measure such things as hormone levels, food sensitivities, general heart health, vitamin levels, stress, and cell aging.

Some companies state their products are “laboratory developed tests” (LDTs), which are developed and used by a single lab. However, the FDA typically does not review LDTs.

The FDA also warns against companies that claim their genetic tests will predict how your body would respond to antidepressants, heart drugs, and other medications.