Return to Index
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 also monitor your blood pressure as well as test for HIV, colon cancer, hepatitis C, deteriorating vision, and urinary tract infections. Some products provide results right away, while others are sample collection devices that need to be mailed to a laboratory for processing.
The Attraction of Home Testing
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 more desirable.
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 to mail 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 6 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. Barriers to testing include fear, inconvenience, and a lack of anonymity. There are 2 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. Keep in mind that the level of antibody in oral fluid may be lower than it is in blood. This may lead you to think you do not have HIV, but it may mean that it has not shown up in oral fluid yet. In fact, up to 1 in 12 infected people may test negative at first, meaning that the test did not detect the antibody when it was present.
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. Keep in mind that a blood sample taken at home may take longer to find infection than most lab-based tests.
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. The traditional way has been the stool card, where you put a sample of stool onto the testing area. There are also 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 that are put in the toilet bowel. This is done for testing 3 consecutive bowel movements to increase the accuracy. 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 people 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.
Anyone who has a sudden change in bowel habits (either constipation or diarrhea) or continuous abdominal pain and discomfort should consult a doctor even if the test is negative.
Follow instructions carefully. You have to avoid certain medications and foods before you take the test. Not doing so can result in a false positive test result.
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 follow up with your doctor regardless of the result.
No matter which which at-home test kit you use, certain guidelines should be followed:
- Always check the expiration date prior to using the test kit.
- Follow manufacturer's instructions for storage.
- Read test instructions thoroughly before using the kit.
- Contact your physician to discuss your results. If your result is positive, you will need to begin treatment. If your result is negative, you may need to be retested to ensure that the home test was accurate.
- When collecting a blood sample, sit down to avoid lightheadedness.
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
US Food and Drug Administration
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada
Arnold C. At-home HIV test poses dilemmas and opportunities. Lancet. 2012;380(9847):1045-1046.
Colorectal cancer screening. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114074/Colorectal-cancer-screening. Updated August 2, 2016. Accessed January 18, 2017.
Fecal occult blood. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/ProductsandMedicalProcedures/InVitroDiagnostics/HomeUseTests/ucm125834.htm. Updated June 5, 2014. Accessed January 18, 2017.
Hepatitis C test. Home Access Home Health Testing website. Available at: http://www.homehealthtesting.com/drugtestinstructions/hepatitis%5Fc%5Ftest.pdf. Accessed January 18, 2017.
Home Access HIV-1 test system. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/BiologicsBloodVaccines/BloodBloodProducts/ApprovedProducts/PremarketApprovalsPMAs/ucm091475.htm. Updated March 26, 2015. Accessed January 18, 2017.
OraQuick in-home HIV test. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/BiologicsBloodVaccines/BloodBloodProducts/ApprovedProducts/PremarketApprovalsPMAs/ucm310436.htm. Updated August 3, 2015. Accessed January 18, 2017.
Peterson NB, Murff HJ, et al. Colorectal cancer screening among men and women in the United States. J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2007;16:57-65.
Wright AA, Katz IT. Home testing for HIV. N Engl J Med. 2006;354(5):437-430.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 01/2017
- Update Date: 01/15/2015