Checking Heart Health With a Home Monitor

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A $99 gadget called CardioChek lets you check your cholesterol, triglycerides and a handful of other cardio- health indicators at home, without having to send anything off to a lab.

Using a lancet (included in every pack of test strips, sold separately), you place a drop of blood on a test strip. Then the device, made by the Indianapolis company Polymer Technology Systems, analyzes the strip's color change and compares it to a reference standard, providing results within two minutes.

But is a home cholesterol monitor really such a great idea?

It's more useful, says William James Howard, a lipidologist with the Washington Hospital Center, for measuring triglyceride levels, which change quickly from day to day according to diet and exercise, than for measuring HDL cholesterol, which takes weeks or months to change. "Assuming the tests are indeed accurate and reproducible, this could be useful to someone who used it every four to six months," Howard says. "I could regulate their cholesterol [by adjusting medication] over the phone without their coming in for a lab visit." But more frequent use isn't likely to provide much benefit, he says.

Consistency is ensured by a computer chip that comes with each package of strips. The system is certified by the Cholesterol Reference Method Laboratory Network, a program of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. No fasting is required, unless you plan to follow the directions for extrapolating your low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or "bad," cholesterol) from other test results.

Each set of three strips costs about $12; a different strip is required to test each of the five heart-health indicators. Insurance doesn't cover CardioChek, except for diabetics using it to test glucose, says Robert Huffstodt, Polymer president. Insurance covers standard lab tests on the same measures, which run about $10 or $12, Howard says. "I don't imagine [CardioChek] would ever be cost-effective enough for insurance to cover it," he says.

The device is available at major retailers such as Wal-Mart and CVS.

-- Jennifer Huget

© 2007 The Washington Post Company