How to use self-test kits safely

You can get self-test kits for a range of health concerns, including infertility, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and some forms of cancer.

These kits are available on the high street, online and on the NHS.

Before buying a self-test kit, it's best to talk to a health professional, such as your pharmacist. They can help you decide which kit is best for you and tell you how to use it.

Remember, you can also get free high-quality tests through the NHS via your GP, hospital or sexual health clinic.

Buying self-test kits safely

If you are buying a self-test kit online, it's important to be wary of the claims they make, as they may be misleading. Before using one, make sure the kit is sealed, without any damage to the packaging, and is within its expiry date.

If you have concerns about the quality of a self-test kit, for example if it is damaged, you should report it using the Yellow Card Scheme.

A self-test kit should never replace a health professional's advice or a result from a national screening programme, such as bowel, cervical or breast cancer screening.

If you have concerns about the quality of a self-test kit, you should report the incident.

Get advice from a health professional first

It's important to remember that, if you are taking any medicines, they may affect your test results. It's worth getting advice from a health professional first, as using a self-test kit may not be appropriate for you.

It's rare for a self-test kit to give a 100% guarantee that you have or don't have a particular condition. It may not be as helpful as having a consultation with a GP or other health professional.

Before using a self-test kit, make sure it has a CE quality assurance mark. This means that, provided you use it correctly, the kit will work properly and is safe.

If you have any concerns, speak to a healthcare professional, such as a pharmacist, practice nurse or GP.

Using a self-test kit

Before using a self-test kit, make sure that:

  • the kit contains everything mentioned in the instructions 
  • you have everything else you need (for example, some need running water or a timer)
  • you perform the test according to the instructions
  • you know how the test should be stored
  • you know how to read and interpret the test result
  • you know how the test is disposed of after use
  • you know who to go to for help when you know the result, should you need it

When you get your results

No self-test kit is 100% reliable, and a CE mark is still no guarantee that a particular home test is suitable for you.

If you have any concerns about your results after using a self-help kit, make sure you get advice from a health professional.

If you do a self-test for HIV and the result is positive, it's important that you contact a health professional as soon as possible and get the emotional and medical support you need.

Examples of self-test kits

Your pharmacist can advise you on the range of self-test kits available, and your GP can tell you what's available on the NHS. Here are some examples:

Self-test kits for infertility

You can buy over-the-counter kits to test for male fertility and female ovulation. If you are worried about your fertility after using one, talk to a health professional.

Self-test kits for STIs

Everyone can get free tests for any STI, including HIV, from their GP or local sexual health clinic.

Self-test kits for STIs are also available online and on the high street. They include home testing kits for infections such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea that you can send away to a laboratory.

If you think you may have an STI the most important thing is to get tested and get medical advice quickly so that you can start treatment.

In some areas, people under the age of 25 can get free NHS testing kits for chlamydia, which are sent out to you and returned by post. 

Some pharmacies provide an STI testing service (including those for chlamydia) and some can provide the treatment.

Free HIV tests if you're at higher risk 

Free self-sampling HIV test kits are available online in many areas of the UK to people who are at higher risk. To check whether you are eligible, or to find your local HIV service, go to test.hiv.

HIV self-test kits are also available from some pharmacies, but you will usually have to pay. It is important to check that any test you buy has a CE quality assurance mark and is licensed for sale in the UK, as poor-quality HIV self-test kits are still available from overseas.

You may need emotional support and counselling if you are testing for HIV, particularly if the result is positive.

Self-test kits for cancer

You can buy cancer-related self-test kits from your local pharmacy, including tests for prostate cancer and bowel cancer.

However, if you are worried or think you have the symptoms of cancer, it's best to get advice from your doctor straight away. They will be able to refer you on to a hospital specialist if necessary.

The earlier you see a doctor, the earlier you can be referred and your cancer diagnosed so that you can start treatment.

See more about free NHS bowel cancer screening tests.

Page last reviewed: 31/03/2016

Next review due: 31/03/2018

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