Worried about your health? Can’t get a GP appointment or simply don’t want the faff of taking time off work? These days there’s a host of home health test kits available on the High Street, promising to assess everything from potential cancer signs to sperm quality from the comfort of your home.
While some are cheap, others are markedly more expensive. So, are they safe, accurate and worth your hard-earned cash?
We asked leading experts to give their verdict on a number of home testing kits. Their answers may surprise you…
General health MOT
Ivie General Health Test At-home Testing Kit, £69, Holland & Barrett
You post the blood sample to the lab and get the results on the Ivie Wellness app within 48 hours
What’s tested: A finger-prick blood test checks 20 health markers to assess liver and kidney function, muscle and bone health, your iron profile, cholesterol levels and risk of diabetes and gout. You post the blood sample to the lab and get the results on the Ivie Wellness app within 48 hours.
Expert verdict: ‘I would strongly advise against tests like these,’ says Dr Jeff Foster, an NHS and private GP based in Leamington Spa. ‘First, conditions such as iron deficiency anaemia can be a marker of serious conditions like bowel cancer – so if you suspect you have iron deficiency (especially as a man, or someone who is not having periods), see your GP rather than doing a home test.
‘Most of the markers tested with this kit are used in the NHS, but not commonly the iron one, and there are other caveats. This tests claims it looks at calcium as part of assessing muscle health, but calcium does not give any information about muscle.
‘Also, testing for diabetes without also doing a full blood count can give an inaccurate result. The problem is that doing a blood test out of context is often useless – or worse. These tests might falsely diagnose a problem, or worse, falsely reassure you everything is OK.
‘Also, a finger-prick sample will never be as good as a true “venous” blood test (the type taken in a clinic), purely because the volume of blood obtained is less, and the method of squeezing the finger means that certain tests are more prone to inaccuracies.
‘Home testing kits can also not be used to access NHS treatment, so please don’t take a private sample to your NHS GP to action. The NHS has its own tests that are quality assured to be accurate.’
Canesten self-test for vaginal infections, Superdrug, £10.49
This testing kit claims to be more than 90 per cent accurate
What’s tested: Unusual vaginal discharge can result from bacteria, yeasts or parasites or a combination of these. This vaginal swab test helps to diagnose and distinguish between thrush (caused by an overgrowth of yeast) and bacterial vaginosis (caused by an overgrowth of bacteria) to find the right treatment. Compare the colour of your swab with the colour chart provided for a diagnosis. Claims to be more than 90 per cent accurate.
Expert verdict: ‘I think this test is great,’ says Tania Adib, consultant gynaecologist at the Lister Hospital in Chelsea. ‘The symptoms of thrush and bacterial vaginosis (BV) can be very similar, and are often confused, meaning the correct condition isn’t treated. Many times I’ve had a patient say they have recurrent thrush, but when I do a swab I discover it’s actually BV – or vice versa.
‘What you need to be mindful of when doing tests like this is two things: first, if you treat the infection but it keeps returning, seek medical help. Also, if your symptoms don’t clear up fully after treatment, you may also have another infection which this test can’t detect, such as a sexually transmitted disease. If you’re in any doubt, get yourself tested at a sexual health clinic.’
MyHealthChecked Bowel Health Rapid Test, £9.99, Boots
This kit screens for the presence of non-visible blood in your stools
What’s tested: Screens for the presence of non-visible blood in your stools (poo), which can be a sign of conditions such as piles, constipation, inflammatory bowel disease or cancer. The sample is collected with a paper receptacle you place over the loo seat (and later flush away). You then use an applicator to collect a rice-sized amount of poo which is mixed with a special solution and a few drops applied to a lateral flow kit (like a Covid test). Results in five minutes.
Expert verdict: ‘These tests just make the worried well even more worried,’ says consultant oncologist Professor Karol Sikora. ‘Around 90 per cent of positives are due to piles and other trivial causes such as anal tears and infections. If you think you’ve seen blood in your poo or your GP isn’t taking you seriously, it’s better to persist with the GP or call NHS 111 than do one of these tests.
‘Boots and other companies make lots of money selling these but don’t do any downstream processing, so it all ends up with GPs – they’re fed up with it.’
Dr Lisa Wilde, of Bowel Cancer UK, adds: ‘Our advice to anyone who is experiencing potential bowel cancer symptoms, such as changes in bowel habit, bleeding from your bottom or blood in your poo, or if things just don’t feel normal for you, is to contact your GP straight away.
‘They will want to see you and may ask you to do a test at home to help decide whether your symptoms need further investigation. Completing a test under the guidance of your doctor gives the best chance of an accurate result and a quick referral for further tests if needed.’
Sure Check HIV Self Test, £33.95, Boots
Some 60 days after exposure, the result you get on this test will be 99 per cent accurate
What’s tested: Just one drop of blood collected with a finger-prick test gives a result that claims to be 99 per cent accurate in 15 minutes.
Expert verdict: ‘This is very similar to one of the tests we use in the NHS – it’s a quick and easy way to check for HIV,’ says Dr Stuart Flanagan, NHS consultant in HIV medicine and spokesman for the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV. ‘As long as a HIV self-test has a CE mark (as this one does), it will meet regulatory standards and have an accuracy of more than 99 per cent. You can also access tests like this free of charge from sexual health clinics.
‘However – what’s crucial to know is there is a delay window after being exposed to HIV before you will get an accurate result on any test – a home one like this or a full blood test taken at a clinic and analysed in a lab.
‘Evidence of HIV takes up to 45 days to show in the blood. With a self-test kit like this, which isn’t as advanced as a lab test, the window is typically 60-90 days. That is, 60 days after exposure, the result you get on this test will be 99 per cent accurate. By 90 days, it will be 100 per cent accurate.
‘But testing before day 60 means you may not get an accurate result.
‘These self-tests are useful for diagnosis, but you obviously don’t get the expert support you would at a specialist sexual health/HIV clinic. If you are worried you have been exposed, an NHS clinic can discuss various types of antiviral treatment, including some within 72 hours of exposure.’
Suresign Urinary Tract Infection Test Strips, £4, Sainsbury’s
Contains three test strips that detect the presence of two specific compounds in your urine
What’s tested: Contains three test strips that detect the presence of two specific compounds in your urine to indicate whether you may have a urinary tract infection (UTI). Collect a urine sample, dip the test strip in and compare the colour it turns with a chart provided. Results in just two minutes.
Expert verdict: ‘Urine dipstick tests like this are a standard NHS screening tool to help diagnose UTIs,’ says Dr Rick Viney, a consultant urological surgeon in the NHS and at the Bladder Clinic, Birmingham. ‘This test aims to detect the presence of two compounds – nitrites and leukocytes. Bacteria that cause UTIs will often lead to nitrites being found in the urine. Infections will also result in immune cells called leukocytes collecting in the urine.
‘A positive urine dipstick would warrant further investigation by your healthcare team – and antibiotics may be offered.
‘But don’t think a negative result means you don’t have an infection. When lab samples of confirmed UTIs were analysed, only half contained leukocytes and only 23 per cent contained nitrites.
‘Ultimately, if you are experiencing the symptoms of a UTI (pain on peeing, frequency, urgency, temperature, etc), the likelihood is that you have an infection, so you should seek help from a healthcare professional.’
MyHealthChecked Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) Rapid Test, £9.99, Boots
You put drops of blood on to a lateral flow kit (like a Covid test) and the results appear within 10 minutes (no need to send to a lab)
What’s tested: The level of thyroid stimulating hormone in the blood, via a finger-prick test. You put drops of blood on to a lateral flow kit (like a Covid test) and the results appear within 10 minutes (no need to send to a lab). A low level of TSH could indicate an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism).
Expert verdict: ‘While the accuracy of this test kit is not stated on the Boots website, there is evidence kits such as these may provide a reasonable initial guide to someone’s thyroid status,’ says Dr Mark Vanderpump, a consultant endocrinologist at OneWelbeck Endocrinology, London.
‘If you have a wide variety of non-specific symptoms, including lethargy, feeling cold all the time, weight gain, constipation, low mood, dry skin and thinning scalp hair, this kit may help give an indication as to whether an underactive thyroid is to blame when there is a raised TSH level.
‘However, the results of kits like this may put further strain on already busy GP services. Also, this test only assesses thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which is usually enough to detect the commonest type of thyroid failure – but it will not detect pituitary disorders, where there is a reduced signal to the thyroid gland.’
MyHealthChecked Sperm Concentration Rapid Test, £12.49, Boots
The test states a concentration of above 15million sperm per ml is considered good, below this threshold is a poor result
What’s tested: Detects a protein found on the surface of sperm membranes called SP-10 and in turn, estimates sperm concentration as an indicator of male fertility. A semen sample is collected in a pot; a small amount is then mixed with a buffer solution and a few drops of this are applied to a lateral flow kit (like a Covid test). Results in five minutes. The test states a concentration of above 15million sperm per ml is considered good, below this threshold is a poor result.
Expert verdict: ‘While you might think this test would save you time, money and the possible embarrassment of going to a clinic for a sperm test, I have many reservations about it,’ says Professor Suks Minhas, an andrologist and male fertility specialist at Imperial College Healthcare, London.
‘Firstly, it’s not stated how accurate this test is. Plus, the presence of just a ‘good or ‘bad’ outcome with no input from a medical expert to help you interpret the results could cause great anxiety – or false reassurance. This test only measures sperm concentration, when there are other factors that affect male fertility.
‘It doesn’t look at sperm motility (the ability of sperm to move or swim efficiently), or abnormal forms of sperm or assess for sperm DNA fragmentation – one of the major causes of male infertility. A test performed at a clinic can check for all of these.’
Suresign Menopause FSH Rapid Tests x2, £4, Sainsbury’s
This looks and works like a pregnancy test, in that it measures hormones in your urine
What’s tested: This looks and works like a pregnancy test, in that it measures hormones in your urine. However in this case, it’s detecting the level of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), which rises as a woman’s ovarian function changes. The premise here is that a higher level could indicate a woman is perimenopausal (the stage before menopause) or has reached menopause.
Expert verdict: ‘While it may seem like a useful option to be able to measure hormone levels, it’s not recommended to measure them by either urine or blood tests to diagnose perimenopause or menopause in women aged over 45,’ says Heather Currie, a gynaecologist and founder of the website Menopause Matters.
‘This is because hormone levels fluctuate significantly throughout the month – and from month to month, so you are unlikely to get an accurate picture – and this can cause unnecessary worry.
‘Also, if the level is high, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will have symptoms and/or need treatment.
‘A diagnosis of perimenopause or menopause is made by looking at the pattern of periods and a woman’s symptoms. While blood tests are recommended in women under the age of 40 if menopause is suspected, and are sometimes helpful in women aged 40 to 45, most women do not need either urine or blood tests to measure FSH.’
Ivie Testosterone Blood Test At-home Testing Kit, £39, Holland & Barrett
Post the sample to the lab and get results within 48 hours
What’s tested: Levels of the sex hormone testosterone, via a finger-prick blood test. In men, testosterone plays a key role in sex drive, fertility, mood and muscle mass. Women produce testosterone too – but in much smaller amounts. Post the sample to the lab and get results within 48 hours.
Expert verdict: ‘This says to test between 7am and 10am but I advise between 8-9am as testosterone levels can fall in the morning,’ says Dr Mark Vanderpump, a consultant endocrinologist at OneWelbeck Endocrinology, London.
‘Crucially, the patient must not have eaten anything from midnight as this can affect the results – this test does not advise avoiding food. This is also a rather basic test as it only measures what’s known as “total testosterone” whereas a clinic would look at other hormonal markers too. It may be helpful as an initial marker of what someone’s testosterone level is, but understanding and interpreting the results can be difficult and will require further assessment.
‘Alone, it may lead to health anxiety or inappropriate reassurance. However, if someone is already receiving treatment for low testosterone then this could potentially help show that their hormone replacement treatment is sufficient.’