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With Home Testing, Consumers Take Charge of Their Health

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Tests Available for Home Use

Home tests can be used to screen for, diagnose, or monitor disease. Most are available over-the-counter (OTC) in local supermarkets or pharmacies or directly from manufacturers by Internet, phone, or mail order, although a few home tests must be prescribed by a healthcare practitioner (for example, those that monitor anticoagulants).

There are a variety of tests cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for home use. Some are used for screening, such as pregnancy tests, hepatitis C tests, drug tests, or fecal occult blood testing for colorectal cancer. Others are monitoring tests, such as cholesterol tests, prothrombin time for blood-thinning and clotting, and blood glucose for diabetes.

Some home tests, like those for pregnancy or blood glucose, produce immediate results. Others are sold as collection devices—you use the device to collect a specimen (for example, urine or stool) and then mail the device containing the sample to the laboratory for evaluation. For example, there are currently two FDA-approved home tests for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. One test provides results at home within 20 minutes. The second test requires you to collect a small blood sample by pricking your finger at home and collecting a drop of blood on special filter paper that is then sent to a laboratory for analysis.

Home collection kits that are mailed to a laboratory for analysis include allergy tests for home allergens, hepatitis C, microalbumin for kidney disease screening, TSH for thyroid function, paternity testing, and PSA testing to screen for prostate cancer.

Test results are generally available within a week or two of mailing the specimen to the analyzing laboratory.

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