Accurate or Not? At-Home Cholesterol Tests and Blood Pressure Monitors
The advantages and disadvantages of checking your cholesterol and blood pressure at home.
If you have high cholesterol or high blood pressure (or if you're worried about having it), you may have been tempted by the many at-home cholesterol tests and blood pressure monitors currently on the market. The devices promise quick, accurate results in the privacy of your own home, a boon for busy people who don't like to sit in waiting rooms. But do they actually work? And are they worth the investment? Read on to learn which products are worth the money and which are not.
Home Cholesterol Tests
Approved by the FDA in 1993, home cholesterol tests generally measure the total fat levels in your blood. A few years ago, some manufacturers also started producing home cholesterol tests that measure high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the "good" cholesterol that protects your heart; low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the "bad" cholesterol which contributes to plaque buildup in the arteries; and triglycerides.
To use the cholesterol tests, you prick your finger with a small lancet, put a drop of blood on a piece of paper with chemicals on it, and wait for the results (usually within 10 minutes or so). In some tests, you can tell your results by the color of the paper. In others, your result appears on a small screen -- often within one minute.
The results of home cholesterol tests are about 95% accurate -- very close to the accuracy of a doctor's (or laboratory's) test.
Home cholesterol tests cost between $14 (for the kind that uses paper strips) and $125 (for a hand-held automatic cholesterol device that tests total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, and triglycerides). That may sound like a pretty good deal, as even the higher-end devices would save you trips to -- and waiting time at -- the doctor's office or medical laboratory. But the home cholesterol tests have a number of problems that may not make them a good investment.
First, the most readily available (and affordable) tests only measure total cholesterol. A full understanding of your cholesterol profile requires measurements of HDL, LDL, and triglycerides as well.
Second, even if you get a sophisticated cholesterol test, a doctor needs to review your results in combination with your other risk factors -- such as family history, nutritional habits, age, and gender -- to really understand your risk for cardiovascular disease.