Health checks are offered by the NHS usually via your local GP and they become increasingly important once you are over 40 years old.
In the UK, during quarter 1 of 2018, under 50% of eligible people took up an NHS Health Check. When these checks can save your life, it makes sense for more people to take them.
Here are the top 10 health checks that could save your life:
NHS Health Check
When you are over 40, you are eligible to take a free NHS Health Check. This check takes around 30 minutes and involves a health professional asking number of questions about your lifestyle such as smoking, drinking, exercise, work and family history. They will measure your weight, height, take a blood test and check your blood pressure. If you are over 65, you will also be advised on the signs and symptoms of dementia for awareness.
This test aims to discover your overall health, whether you are at risk of any health problems such as diabetes, stroke, heart disease, kidney disease. The health professional will assess all of these things and if needed, will offer you advice to help improve your overall health.
You will be invited for the NHS Health Check if you are aged between 40 and 74 without any pre-existing health problems. If you’ve not had a health check yet, you can ask your GP for an appointment.
Cholesterol can build up in the arteries, increasing your risk of a heart attack or stroke. It is a fat that is carried around in the blood. It can be reduced by keeping a healthy diet and with regular exercise.
Your local GP will be able to check your cholesterol levels by taking a blood test.
A high blood pressure increases your risk of heart or kidney disease and stroke, and a low blood pressure (hypotension) can cause dizziness and fainting. If you are over 40, it is recommended that you have your blood pressure checked every 5 years.
If your blood pressure falls outside of a healthy range then you will need to go back for more regular testing and your health practitioner will be able to advise you on how to lower or increase it.
Cervical screening checks for any cell abnormalities in the cervix that could lead to cancer. Women aged 25-64 should be invited to screening every 3-5 years. If there are any abnormalities found, this is not necessarily cancer but you may be required to attend screening more frequently or have treatment.
Bowel Cancer Screening
Bowel cancer screening is offered to people who are aged 60 to 74 and screening should then be attended every 2 years. There are two tests involved in NHS bowel cancer screening, one involves a bowel scope screening, where a thin flexible tube is used to check and remove polyps from the bowel. The other is a testing kit is usually sent to you in the post and you collect small samples over several days and sent to a laboratory to check for any traces of blood.
This screening cannot diagnose if bowel cancer is present but the tests will highlight any reasons for concern that need further investigation.
Breast screening is a beneficial way to detect early signs of breast cancer. When you are over 47 you will get invited to be screened and this usually occurs every 3 years until you are 70. This is usually done by taking an x-ray of each breast. 1 in 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer so it is important this screening is attended.
Currently there is no national screening programme for prostate cancer as we do not yet have a reliable testing method to use. However, men can ask for a physical examination or a PSA blood test if there are any causes for concern such as an increased need to urinate, straining or not feeling emptied after urinating.
Pancreatic Cancer Check
Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate and there is no suitable screening test for it as yet but if you have a family history then you may be able to get into a screening study. It is most likely to occur in people who are aged over 65. Early signs to look out for are yellowing of the skin and eyes, weight loss and loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, and diabetes.
Checks for this can involve blood tests, and MRI and ultrasound.
People over 65 are more at risk of developing pneumonia when contracting a flu virus, also of becoming more seriously ill when contracting shingles. Both of these can be fatal.
Vaccinations for Influenza and shingles are available through the NHS and are administered by your GP. You can request a free combination jab for pneumonia, septicaemia and bacterial meningitis if you’re 65 years or over, or if you have a long term health condition. Carers are often also eligible to receive the flu vaccination.
Checking your own skin regularly for any general changes or changes to moles is important. It is recommended that personal checks are done every two weeks. If you notice and changes or abnormalities, you should book in to see your GP about it. You may be referred to a dermatologist expert to check further or take a small biopsy.