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Consumer Reports: do-it-yourself medical tests reviewed

April 2, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Do-it-yourself medical tests are becoming more popular. They let patients test for a slew of ailments from high cholesterol to hypertension - all in the comfort of home. While some at-home tests can be very helpful, others aren't a good idea.

Stephanie Paulmeno takes a blood glucose reading every day to control her diabetes.

"I think that the home tests are so important because it gives you an opportunity to see how you're regulating your own blood sugar," Paulmeno said.

Glucose kits to manage diabetes at home are useful, and so are blood-pressure monitors. Doctors encourage people with hypertension or borderline hypertension to use them.

But Consumer Reports says other tests could lead you astray, like a kit to let women know menopause is under way.

"Women in their late 40s and 50s might interpret those results to mean that they no longer need birth control, and that could result in an unwanted pregnancy," said Marvin Lipman of Consumer Reports.

Other home tests have questionable value, including ones that screen for high-cholesterol levels.

"These tests measure total cholesterol, but you still need a doctor to interpret the results for you and to tell you what to do about it," Lipman said.

A kit can help you uncover a urinary-tract infection, but you need a prescription from a physician if you get a positive result.

"You really have to know in advance whether your doctor is willing to prescribe over the phone. Many are not willing to do that," Lipman said.

Even when at-home tests are recommended, they're not a replacement for professional medical care.

Consumer Reports says another home test you can skip is one that looks for early signs of heart disease. It detects a marker called C-reactive protein, but the problem is, the tests can be hard to read and haven't proven to be effective.

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