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22 December 2021

What are the benefits of home blood tests?

Home Health

Dr Katie BlogWritten by Dr Katie Stephens, GP

Dr Katie graduated from the University of Manchester in 2007 (MBChB) and completed her GP training in the West Midlands in 2012 (MRCGP).

What are the benefits of Home Blood Tests?

In short, prevention is far better for you than treatment. If you can monitor your risk factors for different diseases and conditions, and neutralise these risks before they lead to harm, you may be able to avoid the harm altogether. If we think about cardiovascular disease (eg stroke, heart attack, angina) as an example of a ‘harm’, we know that some risk factors will be out of your control, such as a family history of premature heart disease. However, other risk factors may be well within your control. This is especially relevant for those who have already been diagnosed with a medical condition that increases your risk, such as high blood pressure or diabetes – monitoring and optimizing the factors within your control becomes even more imperative.

Some of these modifiable risk factors will be ones you can monitor yourself without support, such as weight/BMI, smoking, alcohol consumption and exercise levels. Other risk factors, such as cholesterol and sugar levels, do require blood tests. That’s where our Home Blood Tests come in.

By using our blood tests and checking your cholesterol and sugar levels, for example, you can gain insight into what level of risk you currently have, and identify areas where improvements may pay off significantly. What’s more, you can monitor your levels over time to see what the effect is of any changes you make.

And for those who have already been diagnosed with the ‘harm’ (ie you already suffer from angina, or you’ve had a mini-stroke for example), optimising the relevant risk factors to reduce the chance of further damage is of course still hugely beneficial.

This is just an example of some of the benefits of our tests. There are of course other valid reasons why doing an at-home test may be beneficial. For example, there may be a particular condition that you are concerned about, or you may be wondering about your Covid immunity levels. I’ve looked at each of the tests that we offer in detail below and explained the reasoning why any one of these may be useful to you.

One last note before we continue – the lab we are partnered with is a not-for-profit NHS lab so you can have peace of mind that the results of any test you request will be accurate and reliable. Finally, while these tests are all helpful, they shouldn’t be used in place of medical advice. If you have symptoms that you are concerned about, please do ensure you speak to a doctor regardless of whether you decide to also test things yourself.

Thyroid Test

Your thyroid is a gland in your neck that controls your body’s metabolism. Its effects are felt all over the body. An overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) can make you feel as though everything is sped up too fast: it may make your pulse race or even give you palpitations, it may cause a tremor, sweating, loose stools, hair loss, weight loss, menstrual changes and even eye symptoms.

An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) has the opposite effect of making everything sluggish: symptoms include constipation, weight gain, dry skin, lethargy, menstrual changes, feeling cold, and even raising your cholesterol levels.

We know that having a family history of thyroid problems increases the chance that each individual may develop the same. If you think this might be you, having a test may be a useful starting point.

Our tests include TSH, FT3 and FT4.

TSH, or Thyroid Stimulating Hormone, is a measure of how hard the thyroid gland is working – a raised TSH tells us that the thyroid gland is working extra hard and a low TSH indicates the thyroid is working at abnormally low levels. This is one of the first results to change in thyroid disease and is arguably the most essential component of any thyroid test.

FT3 (free T3, or free triiodothyronine) and FT4 (free T4, or free thyroxine) represent the active levels of the hormones that the thyroid produces, which circulate around the body to tell the organs how fast to work.

Interpreting the combination of raised, normal or lowered FT3 and FT4 in conjunction with the TSH level can point us towards how well your thyroid gland is functioning and what type of abnormality (if any) there may be.

    • Test your thyroid function (TSH / FT3 / FT4) to understand how your body releases hormones that control your metabolism and the way your body uses energy.
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Vitamin D Test

Low Vitamin D has been in the headlines a lot these last few years as a possible cause of tiredness. Unfortunately, as most of our Vitamin D tends to come from sunlight, many people in the UK who do not take supplements will have somewhat low levels, especially in the darker months of the year.

Vitamin D does more than just affect our energy levels, though. It also plays a role in our immune system, and of course in our calcium absorption, helping to keep our bones, teeth and muscles strong.

Anyone who is known to have, or is at risk of, brittle bones (osteopenia or osteoporosis) should ideally know what their Vitamin D levels are. Things that would put you at risk of this include having a family history of osteoporosis or a ‘fragility fracture’ (breaking a bone through only a low impact injury), being underweight and smoking. Additionally, you may be at risk of low Vitamin D if you have dark skin or excessively limited sunlight exposure (not going outdoors much or wearing clothes that cover most of your skin when you do).

    • Test if you have a Vitamin D deficiency. Low levels may lead to weakened bones, reduced immunity and fatigue.
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Our tests include Vitamin D2, which is obtained through diet, and D3, which we get through sunlight. Your results may be classed as one of the following:

  • Deficient (the lowest level), Less than 10 nmol/L: At this level, you would need short-term high-dose replacement prescribed by a doctor and monitoring.
  • Insufficient, 10 – 35 nmol/L: Over-the-counter low-dose replacement +/- monitoring may be advised.
  • Adequate, 36 – 60 nmol/L: Depending on risk factors, further advice regarding optimisation may be given.
  • Optimal, Greater than 60 nmol/L.

Total Cholesterol Test

Why is it so important that we know our cholesterol levels? As I’ve already hinted at above, abnormal cholesterol is one of the ‘risk factors’ for cardiovascular disease (CVD) – a term that us medics use to encompass all sorts of damage to the arteries, heart and brain, such as stroke, angina, and heart attacks. What’s more, it’s treatable! And not just through medication but also through changes to diet and lifestyle. And that’s true both for those who already suffer from cardiovascular disease and those who don’t.

If you know that you are getting to a stage in your life where you may be at risk of cardiovascular disease, then knowing your cholesterol is hugely beneficial. You may be at risk of CVD if any of the following apply to you1:

  • You have a family history of this, especially at a premature age
  • You have another medical condition that increases your risk, eg diabetes or hypertension
  • You are in a mature age group (that’s >45y in men and post-menopause or >55y in women)
  • Abnormal cholesterol (namely, high Low-Density Lipoprotein, LDL, or low High-Density Lipoprotein, HDL)
  • You currently smoke (more significant) or used to (may be significant depending when you quit)
  • You have a sedentary lifestyle
  • You are overweight or obese
    • A measurement of how much fat is in your blood. The lipid profiles include: 1. Cholesterol 2. Triglycerides 3. High density lipoprotein cholesterol 4. Non-high density lipoprotein cholesterol.
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While knowing your total cholesterol can be a good starting point, the evidence suggests that having a breakdown and in particular, knowing your triglycerides, LDL and HDL, is particularly useful in predicting risk. Fortunately, our ‘total cholesterol test’ is actually a full profile does include each of these tests.

For those already on medication to reduce cholesterol, it can be very useful to see if your levels are dropping as much as they should do. If the medication is started after someone has been diagnosed with CVD, the National Institute of Clinical Knowledge and Excellence recommends aiming to reduce the non-HDL cholesterol by 40%2, in order to effectively reduce the risk of further CVD.

Diabetes Test

This test measures something called HbA1C. This abbreviation refers to glycated haemoglobin – in other words, it is the amount of haemoglobin in your body (the part in the red blood cells that carries oxygen) that has sugar attached to it. We all have some sugary haemoglobin, but knowing how much there is tells us what the sugar levels in your blood are like generally. As red blood cells live around 3 months, this test gives us an average sugar level over the last 3 months.

Symptoms of diabetes include excessive thirst, weeing a lot more than normal, fatigue, and recurrent infections. You may be at increased risk of developing diabetes if you are overweight or have a family history of this.

If you are concerned that you might have diabetes, this is a great test to do. It is a more accurate way of looking at overall trends and averages compared to a snapshot blood glucose level, which can sometimes be falsely reassuring. It can tell you whether your average sugar levels are normal, pre-diabetic (ie raised and at risk of developing diabetes) or diabetic.

It is worth knowing that there are certain instances where this test may not be appropriate. In particular, other conditions that affect your red blood cell or haemoglobin levels may interfere with the interpretation. Examples of when this wouldn’t be appropriate include: age <18 years old, pregnancy or within 2 months of being pregnant, if symptoms have lasted <2 months, haemoglobinopathies (eg thalassaemia), anaemia, or having had a recent blood transfusion. If you aren’t sure if this test is appropriate for you, I’d recommend speaking to your doctor.

    • This test detects high or low blood sugar levels (HbA1c). Results will tell you if you have diabetes, if you're at risk of developing diabetes or if you have healthy blood sugar levels. 
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Healthy Heart

This is a good test for you if you may be at risk of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD). As a recap, this might be the case if any of the following apply to you1:

  • You have a family history of this, especially at a premature age
  • You have another medical condition that increases your risk, eg diabetes or hypertension
  • You are in a mature age group (that’s >45y in men and post-menopause or >55y in women)
  • Abnormal cholesterol (namely, high Low-Density Lipoprotein, LDL, or low High-Density Lipoprotein, HDL)
  • You currently smoke (more significant) or used to (may be significant depending when you quit)
  • You have a sedentary lifestyle
  • You are overweight or obese

This is also a good test if you have already been diagnosed with heart diseases such as angina or ischaemic heart disease, or if you’ve had a heart attack. As I mentioned in my intro, optimising risk factors is still very much beneficial (and arguably even more crucial) at this stage.

    • Test for cholesterol and blood sugar levels to get a better understanding of your cardiovascular risk.
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This test includes an HbA1c level (average blood sugar over 3 months) and a total cholesterol test. [Insert further details here once we know if this is just total cholesterol or full profile.] Monitoring your levels to ensure they are optimised can reduce your risk of developing heart damage in the first place, or if you’ve already suffered this, experiencing further damage.

Full Screen

This is a bundle of all of our non-COVID-19 tests that we can offer together at a competitive price. It includes:

  • Diabetes (HbA1c)
  • Vitamin D (D2 and D3)
  • Cholesterol Profile (total cholesterol, LDL, HDL and triglycerides)
  • Thyroid Function Tests (TSH, FT3, FT4)

Please have a look at each of these test’s individual sections for further details on when they may be useful.

    • Test your average sugar levels (HbA1c), vitamin D levels, total cholesterol levels and your thyroid function (TSH / FT3 / FT4).
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COVID-19 Antibody Test

When we get an infection, our immune system makes what can be thought of as little soldiers specifically designed to fight a particular type of infection. These ‘soldiers’ are called antibodies. We can make antibodies which target different parts of the infection (imagine a snare antibody which only works by targeting the invaders’ hypothetical feet; this would be different to ‘handcuff’ antibodies which can only target its wrists). This test specifically assesses if we have antibodies to the part of COVID-19 that would only be produced in response to being infected with COVID-19, not with being immunised. In other words, this test is only to check if you’ve ever been infected, and not to check your current immunity levels.

If you’re wondering whether you’ve had COVID-19, this Public Health England-validated test is for you.

If you’re wanting a test for international travel purposes, you will instead need a PCR test from a private provider that has been approved by the government. You can find a list of such providers here3 but from personal experience please check out reviews (eg on trustpilot or elsewhere) of any company you are using before handing over money, as there is a range of quality of services provided.

COVID-19 Vaccine Immunity Test

As discussed in the above section, our bodies make antibodies (or ‘little soldiers’) in the face of any invading infection. This is how we develop immunity to an infection. When we have a jab, our body is able to design the little soldiers in the optimal way by having a test fight with an incapacitated form of an invader (virus or bacteria). This way, if ever we run into the real thing, we are already prepared and can unleash all of the already-optimised soldiers to hopefully quash the infection before it can take root.

This particular test checks the levels of antibodies/soldiers that are made in the particular instance of getting immunised (as pre previous example – think ‘handcuffs’ not ‘snare’). A positive result could therefore mean that your immune system responded well to the jab. It potentially could also mean that you’ve had a previous infection with COVID-19 as the particular soldiers it is looking for could have been made fighting the ‘real thing’.

If you are interested to know if the vaccination has triggered an immune response, this test is for you.

    • Find out if your immune system has responded to the COVID-19 vaccine.
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    • This blood test will tell you if you have produced antibodies in response to the vaccine or a previous COVID-19 infection.
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COVID-19 Antibody and Vaccine Immunity Test

This is a combination test that checks both antibodies to a general COVID-19 infection and also the type of antibodies that are made in response to being vaccinated. Having the two together can help you interpret a positive result:

  • If you have a positive result for the vaccine immunity test and a negative result for the COVID-19 antibody test, this suggests your immune system has responded to a previous vaccine instead of a previous infection.
  • If it is the other way around, ie positive for COVID-19 antibody but negative for vaccine immunity, then you have likely had a past infection and your immune system has not responded to the vaccine.
  • Of course, there are other interpretations if both are positive or both are negative. The meaning of your particular combination of results will be provided alongside.

It is worth noting again that these tests can’t be used for international travel. They also cannot tell you if you have a current COVID-19 infection or whether you are completely immune. It is important to follow the government’s advice regarding when to test and when to self-isolate4,5, regardless of whether you use these tests or not. That said, these can be a useful insight if you are curious about whether previous symptoms may have been a COVID-19 infection and/or if your immune system has responded to the jab.

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