Healthy living

Self-test health kits may do 'more harm than good'

Self-test health kits may do  more harm than good Can cause false alarms

Self-test health kits may do more harm then good, as they could lead to false alarms or false reassurance, a consumer watchdog has warned.

Which? assessed six widely available self-test health kits for accuracy of information and ease of use, and asked 64 members of the public about them.

The watchdog said the results were 'hit and miss.'

Some consumers said the prostate test results could have led to them not seeking medical help.

Experts and consumers alike found some of the language used baffling. Instruction to draw blood from the ‘hillside’ of the finger and terms such as ‘separation membranes’, ‘desiccant’ and ‘in-vitro diagnostic device,' could cause confusion, the watchdog said.

Gaps in the information provided by the tests were also found. Some failed to mention factors that could affect the test results and cause unnecessary worry.

The Boots blood glucose test, marketed as helping ‘in the early detection of diabetes’, did not point out that glucose levels can be raised after a meal.

And the Boots bowel test kit gave no guidance on collecting a sample or dietary advice, such as avoiding red meat for three days before the test.

The Selfcheck Health Test which tests for a protein (PSA) linked to prostate problems including prostate cancer failed to point out that factors such as recent sexual activity, a urine infection, or even vigorous exercise, can cause PSA levels to rise.

The watchdog said the Simplicity Stomach Ulcer Screening Test was misleadingly named. The test identifies a particular bacteria, but only a minority of people who test positive are likely to develop a stomach ulcer.

The experts said the company’s website was ‘unduly alarming’.

Which? chief executive, Peter Vicary-Smith, said: “Self-test health kits could be a useful tool, but the lack of clear information about how to use them could do more harm than good.

“As your GP may well have to carry out their own tests to confirm a positive diagnosis anyway, you may be better off saving your money and going straight to your GP.”

This article was published on Thu 31 March 2011

Image © Max Tactic -

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