Understanding medical tests

Health professional advising a patient

Take an active role in your health decisions by discussing your medical tests with your health professional. Image: Shutterstock.com

Medical tests are used for various reasons, including:

  • to screen for a common problem, or risk factor, in someone without any symptoms (e.g. cholesterol test)
  • to help diagnose a problem or rule out possible causes (e.g. a chest X-ray for someone with chest pain)
  • to monitor a health condition or the effects of treatment (e.g. blood glucose testing for people with diabetes).

Watch our video, in which Libby talks about the questions she asks her doctor about tests. Before having a medical test, Libby likes to find out from her doctor why the test is important, what the test will involve and what the risks are.

Discuss your options

It's important to understand your medical test options and what each test involves. In some cases the benefit of a test is not clear cut, and you may want to discuss the 'pros and cons' with your doctor.

Weigh-up your options

Whether to have a test at all, and the choice of test for you, will depend on your individual situation. A test is usually just one part of the picture — your doctor may need other pieces of information to diagnose and treat your condition.

Be familiar with your test history

Your health professional may ask about your medical history including any previous tests and results. Keep your test results (including the images or scans) in a safe and accessible place.