DNA/Wellness Tests: What to Expect

In the comfort of your home, it’s never been easier to learn more about your health and genetic background through at-home wellness tests.

Just a few years ago, all medical tests were done at the doctor’s office or lab with long delays to get results. Within the past few years, wellness and DNA tests have become widespread and easy to purchase at local drug stores or order online through next-day delivery.

At-home tests are definitely getting patients to become more involved in their own health, says Dr. Sterling Ransone, Jr., a family physician in Deltaville, Virginia, and president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. “It’s really important for patients to be an active participant in their long-term health, and these tests can help them become more engaged.”

[READ: Is Home Medical Testing Right for You?]

What Are Wellness Tests?

The variety of at-home wellness tests and companies offering these services increase each month. Some tests will help identify your predisposition to food allergies or whether your hormone levels are imbalanced. Other tests can identify food intolerances that activate the immune system; while others analyze the potential impact your genes have on your vitamin and mineral levels and detect how well your body is absorbing and processing vitamins from the food you eat.

Several companies offer at-home wellness tests, including EverlyWell, LetsGetChecked and ORIG3N, and better known services from Ancestry.com and 23andMe provide genetic and ancestral information based on DNA.

Nearly every organ — liver, kidney, heart, stomach, intestines — can be tested in some way to determine if they are working properly. Screening for cancer can even be done at home. For instance, colon cancer tests detect hidden blood in the stool, which can be an early sign of colon cancer. These tests do not diagnose colon cancer, but show whether follow-up exams or testing, like a colonoscopy, may be needed.

Some common at-home tests include:

— Cancer screening, e.g., colon, ovarian, cervical.

Diabetes.

— Fertility, measuring a variety of hormones.

— Food sensitivities.

— Genetics.

— HIV.

— Hormone imbalance.

Indoor and outdoor allergies.

— Kidney function.

— Liver protein levels.

Metabolism.

— Sexually transmitted diseases.

— Thyroid levels.

Vitamin deficiencies.

[Read: Do Home Cancer Tests Work as Well as a Colonoscopy?]

How Do Wellness Tests Work?

Home tests collect your health information through blood spot, saliva, stool or urine samples, depending on the test kit. Blood spot testing is very simple to collect, using a finger prick collection method that does not require drawing blood with a needle from a vein. The tests can examine up to hundreds of thousands of specific genetic markers across your DNA.

Once your sample is received at the certified laboratory, technicians analyze the tests and produce the report.

In the past, it took weeks to get results back from the doctor. Nowadays, most testing companies will provide confidential reports from a secure online account within two to five days, sometimes longer for certain tests. Expect several weeks if the tests are examining ancestry and genetic information.

The at-home tests vary in cost, anywhere from $25 to more than $200 and are generally not covered by health insurance.

Advantages of At-Home Testing

The convenience of taking tests at home without sitting in a doctor’s office or clinic is extremely appealing. The convenience factor is especially vital to those living in rural areas who must travel far distances to go to a doctor’s office or clinic for testing. The results are confidential and not available to your doctor unless you want to share the information.

The at-home tests make patients become more proactive with their personal wellness decisions, says Dr. Michael Sevilla, a family physician with Family Practice Center of Salem, Ohio. He is the immediate past president of the Ohio Academy of Family Physicians. “I’ve had patients learn that they may be lactose intolerant or more susceptible to heart disease, and I’ve seen how it has motivated them to change their lifestyle and adopt healthier habits.”

Downside of Testing

At-home tests can provide useful health information, but what do you do when the news is unexpected? What if it shows you are allergic to gluten? Or you may have a sexually transmitted disease, based on the report.

It’s important to remember that results from at-home tests are not a diagnosis, Ransone explains. “If the test comes back and says you’re predisposed to certain conditions, we need to conduct follow-up lab tests to confirm. These at-home tests are not designed to definitively provide a diagnosis.”

When the results show something more serious, like blood in your stool which could be an early sign of colon cancer, it’s critical to see your doctor or maybe even a specialist. “In these situations, it’s important to speak to your primary care physician right away,” Ransone says.

At-home tests cover many diseases, but not every condition has one. There’s no home test to determine your mental health or cognitive function, for instance. If patients are experiencing new symptoms, “I advise them to see a doctor who can run a series of lab tests to understand what’s going on,” Sevilla adds.

[READ: Who Should Use a Home Cholesterol Test Kit?]

How Reliable Are the Results?

While the tests are widely popular, there’s very little research evaluating whether the tests are reliable.

One 2018 study analyzed nearly 50 samples from at-home tests that required follow-up analysis because of genetic variants, or changes, identified through the test. The analysis showed that 40% of the genetic changes were actually incorrect or identified as false positives. In addition, some genetic changes that were labeled as “increased risk” were reclassified as “low risk” through an independent analysis.

The federal government does oversee laboratories throughout the country to assess quality and experience of laboratory personnel, but they do not assess results processed by the labs. While many of the labs have doctors on staff to monitor quality and operations, there is very little independent oversight.

“People put a lot of faith in these test results, but sometimes they are inaccurate, and that can lead to a lot of unnecessary worry and stress for patients,” Ransone says. “When patients receive important health information from tests, they should talk to their doctor who will determine whether follow-up testing might be needed.”

Getting the Report

Some testing companies provide 1-800 numbers to speak to physicians, nurses or genetic counselors to explain the reports. In some cases, these providers offer advice on lifestyle changes and healthy ways to improve your well-being.

Unless you truly want to keep the results confidential, Sevilla recommends involving your primary care doctor after you get the results. “Patients shouldn’t feel like they are in this alone if they are using at-home tests,” Sevilla explains. “Schedule an appointment around the time the results will be available so your doctor can answer questions.”

More from U.S. News

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Health Screenings You Need Now

DNA/Wellness Tests: What to Expect originally appeared on usnews.com

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