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The 6 medical tests you can do from home

A man sitting at a table doing an at-home health screening

You can screen yourself for several common conditions from the comfort of your own home. Here’s how.

Home health tests aren’t new. After all, women have been using at-home pregnancy tests since the 1970s.1 And most of us have had our share of at-home tests for COVID-19. But what you might not know: The variety of at-home health tests is growing. Now you can test for many more conditions from the comfort of your home. You can do nasal swabs, finger pricks, urine tests and more.2

Many at-home tests are convenient and easy to use. You don’t need to carve out time to drive to your doctor’s office. For many tests, you wait only a few minutes for your results. Others come with a prepaid label for you to mail your samples to a lab.3 Those results often come back in about a week.

Home tests can complement tests ordered by your doctor. They do not replace them. If you use a home test, talk with your doctor about your results. They can add detail to your specific situation. Plus, they can help your doctor decide whether you need follow-up tests.

Here are some of the conditions you can test for at home. And don't forget: You can use your medical expense account to help pay for them. Learn more. 

Urinary tract infection (UTI)

If you have burning pain when you pee along with an increased urge to go, you might have a UTI. You can use an at-home test for a UTI to check. Most tests use a dipstick. It’s a test strip you stick in a urine sample. The strip checks for substances that are often present with a UTI, such as germs and white blood cells. You could have your results in as little as two minutes.4

The benefit is that you can quickly get a result in the privacy of your home. And you can get them after hours or on a weekend when you can’t get to your doctor’s office. Then if your test results show an infection, you can get care sooner. Your doctor might prescribe medication, such as nitrofurantoin.

If you have UTI symptoms, talk to a health care provider to see if you need more tests to rule out other causes. (Visit with an Optum provider online as soon as today. No insurance required.)

If you have chronic UTIs, it can be especially convenient to keep some urine dipsticks on hand.

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Colon cancer

Colon cancer occurs when cells in the large intestine or rectum become abnormal. Routine screening starts at age 45. Your doctor may suggest starting earlier if you have5:

  • A personal history of colon cancer or certain types of abnormal growths
  • A personal history of inflammatory bowel disease
  • A family history of colon cancer
  • Received radiation treatment to your pelvis or stomach area

There are two types of tests. A visual screening test that must be performed by your doctor or a stool-based one you can do at home. If you choose the at-home test, your doctor can send it to you, or you can buy one over the counter. The completed test is mailed to a certified lab, and results are available in a few days.

The test looks for trace blood or abnormal DNA in your stool. Either can be a sign of polyps, which are abnormal growths in the large intestine. They are common in people older than 50, and most are noncancerous. But they have the potential to become colon cancer if not found and removed.

Different tests have different rates of false positives and false negatives. That’s why it’s important to follow up with your doctor no matter what, says Tara Ostrom, MD. She’s the medical director at Optum Primary Care Arizona. She also recommends reading the directions carefully because some tests also have dietary limits. Learn more about colon cancer screening.

A1C blood sugar

Also known as the hemoglobin A1C or HbA1c test, this blood sugar test measures your average blood sugar levels over the past three months.6 High levels can be a sign of prediabetes or diabetes. It’s important to know your A1C blood sugar level. Ninety percent of people who have prediabetes don’t know it. But when you catch it early, you have a chance to prevent full-blown diabetes. In fact, many people have diabetes for years before they’re diagnosed, Dr. Ostrom says.

And that can be dangerous for your health. When diabetes isn’t managed, it can damage your heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves. Along with prediabetes, here’s what else can increase your risk:

  • having a family history of diabetes
  • being overweight
  • having symptoms such as increased thirst and urination

If the results of your home test are positive, be sure to see a provider for further testing and treatment. (Find a doctor near you.)

Allergies

Itchy throat, watery eyes and sneezing can be symptoms of allergies. When you’re allergic to something, your immune system produces antibodies called IgE. At-home allergy tests check a blood sample for IgE levels caused by specific allergens.7,8

To take an at-home allergy test, you prick your finger and collect a blood sample. Then you’ll mail your sample to a lab and wait about a week for your results.

At-home allergy tests can point to specific culprits, such as a certain kind of plant.

If your test indicates you might have allergies, talk to your primary care doctor. They will look at your situation and may perform more tests. They might also suggest over-the-counter medications to treat your symptoms. Common ones include:

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

Sexually transmitted infections are transmitted between sexual partners. They pass through bodily fluids or skin-to-skin contact. Infections can be caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites.9

Many people who have STIs experience mild or no symptoms. If you’re sexually active, it’s a good idea to regularly screen yourself for STIs. This is especially true if you have multiple partners.

At-home tests are available for several STIs, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, syphilis and trichomoniasis. Depending on the test, you’ll typically have to swab different parts of your body, such as your throat, vagina or anus.10 You mail in your samples for all these tests. Then a lab will look at them. You can expect your results within a few days to a week.

If you suspect you have an STI or are at risk of having contracted one, an at-home test offers a way to do a first check. Once you get your results, contact a doctor for a follow-up.

COVID-19

You’ve likely heard at-home COVID-19 tests called “rapid tests.” These tests identify the presence of antigens that the immune system produces in response to the virus that causes COVID-19. The PCR tests you get at your doctor’s office look for genetic material from the virus. At-home tests for COVID-19 look for a current infection. They cannot determine whether you’ve had COVID-19 in the past.11, 12

To take the test, you typically swab inside each nostril with a cotton swab. The test then has a device that analyzes the sample. Depending on the brand of test you use, your results should be ready in about 15 to 30 minutes.

If you have COVID-19 symptoms and think you might have the illness, you can take an at-home test for to make sure. At-home COVID tests are also good for screening, which means looking for a disease even if you don’t have symptoms. For example, you might take a test before traveling on a plane or attending a crowded indoor event.

“Everyone should just have a couple of tests at home,” says Dr. Ostrom.

Sources

  1. American Association for Clinical Chemistry. Pregnancy testing through the ages. Published March 2020. Accessed June 1, 2022.
  2. Brand Essence Research. Self-testing market by product, by usage, by application and industry analysis. Published February 2022. Accessed June 1, 2022.
  3. National Library of Medicine, Medline Plus. At-home medical tests. Last updated January 19, 2022. Accessed June 1, 2022.
  4. Testing.com. At-home UTI testing. Last modified February 11, 2022. Accessed June 1, 2022.
  5. Cancer Screen Week. Colorectal cancer. Accessed June 13, 2022.
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All about your A1C. Reviewed August 10, 2021. Accessed July 19, 2022.
  7. Testing.com. At-home allergy testing. Last modified November 9, 2021. Accessed June 1, 2022.
  8. Testing.com. At-home food allergy testing. Last modified December 13, 2021. Accessed June 1, 2022.
  9. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus. Sexually transmitted diseases. Last updated October 25, 2021. Accessed June 1, 2022.
  10. Testing.com. STD testing. Last modified November 9, 2021. Accessed June 1, 2022.
  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 testing: What you need to know. Updated May 3, 2022. Accessed June 1, 2022.
  12. Testing.com. At-home COVID-19 antigen test. Last modified November 9, 2021. Accessed June 1, 2022.

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