This article was written by one of The Food Medic team; GP – Dr Nirja Joshi.
This article will help to understand more about the NHS health check and see how this could help you or members of your family to understand more about your health.
The NHS offers a free health check to adults aged 40 to 74 who do not have certain medical conditions such as heart conditions, stroke, diabetes or high cholesterol (1). This is a health check up which is designed to detect early signs of longer term health conditions in otherwise healthy individuals. This is a great opportunity to help to optimise your health. It is important to note that due to Covid, the availability of health checks may vary depending on your local area (2).
As we get older, our risk of different conditions begins to increase. The NHS health check aims to detect early changes and help you to understand how you can reduce the risk of these conditions (1).
Where to get your NHS health check
NHS health checks are delivered by local authorities, so where they are delivered will vary. They may be delivered at your GP or local pharmacy, or another suitable venue for example a mobile unit to offer opportunistic health screening. You can find out where to get your NHS health check here (2):
If you do not fit into the age bracket for an NHS health check, and have concerns about your health, do speak to your GP and they can help to assess your health concerns.
What happens at your NHS health check
Your NHS health check will be carried out by a healthcare professional, this could be a nurse, pharmacist, healthcare assistant or GP. The appointment will last 20 to 30 minutes (3). The first portion of the appointment will normally include asking questions about your general health and your lifestyle. For example, you may be asked about any family history of conditions, whether you smoke, how much alcohol you drink as well as your physical activity levels (3).
Thereafter, your height and weight will be measured. This information will be used to calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI), which indicates how much weight you are carrying for your height (3). The BMI has some limitations in that it cannot tell how much body fat or muscle a person has. Therefore, some people who are very muscular may be categorised as obese, even if there body fat is low and older adults who lose a lot of muscle may be catgeorgised as healthy or underweight, despite having a high percent of body fat. However, despite these limitations it can still be a useful tool and is still used in current practice.
Your waist measurement may also be taken. This is important as it helps to indicate ‘central obesity’, the weight we carry around our waist may demonstrate that you may be at great risk of conditions such as heart disease or diabetes (3).
Your blood pressure will be recorded. This is done by placing a cuff over your upper arm which will inflate and become tight, this may be uncomfortable but should not be painful. Some people suffer with ‘white coat hypertension’, what this means is that your blood pressure increases when you are in a healthcare setting. If you feel this is the case for you, it is possible to monitor your blood pressure at home with guidance from your healthcare professional to produce a more accurate reading.
A blood test also forms part of an NHS health check. This may be a blood sample, or a finger prick blood test depending on the setting where this is being done. The healthcare professional will then discuss your blood results with you.
When will you get your results?
Your results will typically be given to you within your appointment. This will help to understand what your risk levels may be for certain conditions (4).
For example, you may be given a risk score which can help to predict your risk of developing conditions such as heart disease or stroke over the next ten years.
Thereafter, you may be given details or referred to a local service to help to reduce your risk by improving your diet, increasing your physical activity, losing weight or stopping smoking.
What happens next?
After going through your results, you will work on a joint action plan with your healthcare professional about how to improve your health. This will be very individual depending on what your tests have shown (4).
If the tests detect that you may have conditions such as high cholesterol or diabetes, you will then be referred to a doctor who can discuss options with regards to medication if that is what is appropriate.
If you are interested in calculating your heart age, you can do so here (5):
An NHS health check is a great way to monitor your health and look more closely at lifestyle factors which could prevent diseases such as diabetes and heart disease in the future. If you are not in the age category to receive an NHS health check, do speak to your GP as they are best placed to give you advice if you are worried about a certain condition.
- NHS. What is an NHS health check? [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2022 Apr 4]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/nhs-health-check/what-is-an-nhs-health-check-new/
- NHS. How do I get an NHS health check [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2022 Apr 4]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/nhs-health-check/nhs-health-check/
- NHS. What happens at the nhs health check? [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2022 Apr 4]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/nhs-health-check/what-happens-at-an-nhs-health-check-new/
- NHS. Your Action Plan [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2022 Apr 4]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/nhs-health-check/your-nhs-health-check-results-and-action-plan/
- NHS. What’s your heart age? [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2022 Apr 4]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/nhs-health-check/check-your-heart-age-tool/