- NHS Health Check: the basics
- NHS Health Check: the science
NHS Health Check: the basics
Why should I have a NHS Health Check?
Everyone has a chance of developing heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, type 2 diabetes or certain types of dementia. The NHS Health Check will help you and your GP or health professional to identify your risk earlier.
You’ll then be given advice on what action you can take to lower your risk and improve your chances of a healthier life. This could include suggestions on small changes to your diet or how much exercise you take if your risk is low or moderate. If you are at higher risk, you might be offered things such as medicines to control your blood pressure, along with help to take action like losing weight or stopping smoking.
What happens at my NHS Health Check?
You will be given some straightforward health tests including having your blood pressure, weight and height measured. You will also be asked some questions about your family’s medical history and your lifestyle. It’s not embarrassing or painful and should only take 20-30 minutes.
What information is collected at an NHS Health Check?
At the NHS Health Check a healthcare professional will ask you:
- your age
- your ethnicity
- whether you smoke
- how much alcohol you drink, if any
- how much exercise you do
- whether any close relatives have had any of the diseases being checked for
You will also:
- be weighed and measured (height) – and from this your body mass index (BMI) will be calculated
- have your blood pressure measured
- have your cholesterol level measured
If your healthcare professional thinks you might have diabetes, you will need to have your blood glucose level measured. You may also be referred for further tests based on your initial results, for example, you may be referred for an ECG which measures how well your heart is pumping.
What happens after my check?
You will be told your results and advised on any lifestyle changes you need to take to improve your score. If you need a prescription or other medical help, that will also be provided. Following your first check, you’ll be invited for another check every five years until you’re over 74.
Why do you have to be over 40 to have an NHS Health Check?
Younger people generally have a much lower risk of the conditions the NHS Health Check covers, so checking people in this group would not be such an effective way for the NHS to spend its resources.
It is recommended, however, that all adults are aware of their blood pressure and other key measures such as their BMI. Ask your GP or a pharmacist for advice on getting this information if you don’t already have it.
- check your BMI with our BMI calculator
- boost your activity levels with our free Couch to 5K running programme
- when it becomes available, see how you get on with the online pre-check tool (check back for updates)
Does the NHS Health Check hurt?
No, not really. You will need to have a blood sample taken at the NHS Health Check. This will usually involve a quick “finger-prick” test to produce a small drop of blood from your fingertip. None of the other tests are at all painful.
NHS Health Check: the science
What is the evidence for the NHS Health Check?
The tests that form part of the NHS Health Check have been proven in large, long-term studies to be able to detect cardiovascular conditions and assess people’s risk of developing these problems.
For example, the Framingham heart study provided the first clear evidence that heart health could be affected by both lifestyle factors, such as diet, and health factors, such as high blood pressure.
There is also evidence to show that receiving advice from a health professional makes us more likely to do more exercise.
Find out more in the science behind the tests.
What are the risks of having an NHS Health Check?
There are no physical risks from having the NHS Health Check beyond having a small blood sample taken.
However, as with medical tests or advice or any sort, there is a small risk of the results being inaccurate, leading to you being given unnecessary treatment, or being unduly reassured.
The possibility of harm from being treated unnecessarily are believed to be quite low, as the common medications for high blood pressure and high cholesterol are known to be very safe. The possibility of harm from being falsely reassured by an inaccurate test are also small.
How does the NHS Health Check come up with an overall score?
Once you know your blood pressure, cholesterol level, BMI and age the NHS Health Check combines these results to calculate your risk of developing heart disease over the next 10 years. These calculations were traditionally done using “risk charts”, but more recently are done using computer software. The calculations are based on studies which have observed the health “outcomes” of large numbers of people over many years using these same tests and questions.
The charity HEART UK has more information about how healthcare professionals calculate your risk of heart disease.