When you were a kid, a fever was the only thing your mom ever tested you for (and you probably sabotaged the results by heating the thermometer over your bed lamp). With today's home health tests, you can swab, prick, or pee to your heart's content. But even though DIY tests are convenient, experts say some are a waste of money. "Even if they're FDA-approved for accuracy, in some cases it's better to see your doctor," says Steven Chang, M.D., a staff physician at righthealth.com, a top comprehensive-health website. Here's what to bring home and what to pass up.
AZO Test Strips
Pee on a Band-Aid-size strip; if it turns dark pink, you have nitrites in your urine, a surefire indicator of a UTI. "If you test positive, you can call your doctor for an antibiotic prescription," says Lauri Romanzi, M.D., a urogynecologist at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City. But if you have symptoms and the results are negative, see your doc ASAP. You could have a more serious problem, like a kidney stone.
Couples' Fertility Test
Fertell Home Fertility Kit
$100, early-pregnancy -tests.com
He ejaculates into a device that counts his motile sperm. You pee on a stick that measures your follicle-stimulating hormone levels, which can indicate how your ovaries are functioning. But even if your results say you're fine, "there are many other causes of infertility — from blocked tubes to endometriosis — that this test doesn't account for," Chang says.
Yeast infection test
Vagisil Screening Kit
Swipe a cotton swab inside your vagina and watch it turn various shades of green, according to your pH level (low pH means you've got yeast). But symptoms like discharge and itching can also signal an STD — which, untreated could permanently damage your reproductive organs. Instead, you're better off hitting your ob-gyn's office or a local clinic to get tested for a variety of infections.
With a quick finger prick you can check your total blood cholesterol, as well as your HDL and triglyceride numbers. "If you follow the directions to the letter, the results are nearly as accurate as a standard lab test," Chang says. It's best to get tested first at a doctor's office; then, if your levels are high, use home testing to track whether lifestyle changes like exercise and a low-fat diet are bringing your numbers down.
Draw a bit of blood, mail it to the ImmuneTech labs, and within a few days they'll let you know whether you're allergic to any of 10 common substances, including dust mites and ragweed. But, Chang says, the test turns up a lot of false positives, and it doesn't consider other information critical for a proper diagnosis, such as a family history of allergies.