HEALTH & BEAUTY: DIY Health Kits Put to the Test

Article excerpt

Byline: KAREN HAMBRIDGE

THE number of gadgets allowing you to check aspects of your health in the privacy of your own home has rocketed. A more questioning public has lapped them up. But are the kits useful or simply a waste of time and money? KAREN HAMBRIDGE reports.

THEY SAY that prevention is better than cure and we certainly seem to be taking the old adage to heart.

In a report from consumer research company Mintel, an astonishing number of people admitted opting for self-diagnosis rather than turning to their doctor.

The survey found that in 2002 alone almost pounds 55 million was spent on self- diagnostic products, such as blood pressure and blood glucose monitors, and pregnancy tests.

Now, not only can you buy a blood pressure monitor, you can pick up a bowel cancer test kit, cholesterol measurer, diabetes test, ovulation detector and digital fertility monitor.

Mintel consumer analyst Jenny Catlin says: "These days many people are much more aware of their health and often want to try to prevent illnesses before they start, rather than taking medicine once the illness has kicked in.

"They also realise that spotting the symptoms early can improve the chances of remaining healthy. Also, long waiting lists often mean it is not easy or convenient to get to the doctor, which means more people are choosing to go it alone."

Today almost 58 per cent of British people have at least one self-diagnostic product in their home. Often this is nothing more scientific than a thermometer.

But the survey also shows that more than one in seven of us has three or more self-diagnostic products at home. Of this group, the urine sugar monitor for diabetes was most popular, followed by tests to measure pulse, blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

Younger people, aged 25-34, were more likely to have self-diagnostic tools and were also less likely to see a doctor unless they were "really ill".

Of course, another factor in the popularity of self-diagnosis has been the availability of test kits and growing awareness about medical conditions.

Diabetics are, for example, encouraged to keep a track of their blood sugar levels as a way of maintaining good health.

The surge in sales of blood pressure monitors can be traced to the ever- expanding health and fitness market.

So while it seems the vogue for self-testing is unlikely to fade, should the public be cautious about how they approach such screening? THE DOCTOR'S VIEW

COVENTRY GP Rodney Swallow, based at surgeries in Bennetts Road, Keresley, and Headington Avenue, Whitmore Park, supports home testing - as long as the information with the kit is adequate, the instructions followed properly, and the person acknowledges the limitations of the device and its results.

He says: "People have the right to obtain these kits and many of them can be very useful for self-monitoring.

"If you think of blood sugar testing with diabetics, or blood pressure checking for people on tablets, by keeping an eye on these conditions themselves, patients can make a big difference to their own lives.

"Good control of these conditions can help people to stay healthier for longer and avoid complications. The more people can keep on top of their illness the better, and self-monitoring is a useful way of doing that so emerging problems can be flagged up."

He believes a number of the devices, such as the home pregnancy test, fertility monitor and ovulation kit, have obvious markets and probably fill a useful niche.

He is less enthusiastic about some others, such as the diabetes home test.

"It is a bit old-fashioned to be testing for the presence of glucose in urine," he explains. "Testing for blood sugar is more sensitive and the person might be better off having a word with the pharmacist to get a blood sugar test done. …