Your NHS Health Check is both quick and straightforward. It's also a sophisticated check of your vital systems, and is one of the best things you can do for yourself and the people who depend on you.
Who carries out your NHS Health Check depends on where you live and where you have the check. If you have the check at your GP practice, for example, your practice nurse or a healthcare assistant may do the check, and then refer you to see the GP if necessary.
If you have your check at a local pharmacy, it may be your pharmacist who does the tests. Find out more about how to get your NHS Health Check.
How do I prepare for my NHS Health Check?
You won't usually need to prepare anything for the NHS Health Check – particularly if you have it while out and about, say, at your local gym or leisure centre, as may be the case depending on where you live.
But if you have a booked appointment for your NHS Health Check, it's worth checking in advance to ask whether you need to do anything to prepare. Your invitation letter should give you all the information you need.
You may be given extra tests in addition to the ones described below. For example, you may be asked to fast in advance or to bring a urine sample, as Jane found out before her NHS Health Check. However, this is not usually required unless you're having follow-up tests.
On the day of your NHS Health Check
Although the format of your NHS Health Check may vary depending on where it takes place, it shouldn't last more than half an hour. During the NHS Health Check you'll:
- be asked questions and have health tests that will give a picture of your health
- discuss the results, including personalised advice and lifestyle support. If necessary, you'll be offered treatment to help you maintain or improve your health and lower your risk of vascular conditions. Some people may be asked to return at a later date for their results
- if you're aged between 65 and 74, you will also be told the signs and symptoms of dementia, and you'll be made aware of memory services nearby
All the tests are simple to carry out, and there will be time to discuss the results with your GP or health professional afterwards.
Questions about you and your health
Your medical history and that of your close relations, plus the choices you make about the way you live your life both play a role in deciding what your level of vascular risk is.
That's why your NHS Health Check will involve a brief personal history and a review of some key personal details. This will involve questions about your:
- age: older people are at an increased risk
- ethnicity: some ethnic groups, for example, people from south Asian and African-Caribbean backgrounds, are at an increased risk
- smoking status: smokers are at increased risk
- family history: if there's a history of these diseases in your family, then you're at an increased risk
- physical activity: people who get little or no exercise are at an increased risk
You will also complete a questionnaire about the amount of alcohol you drink, as drinking above recommended limits increases your risk of both vascular and liver disease. There are 10 questions and it only takes around three minutes to do.
The health tests
As part of the NHS Health Check, your healthcare professional will need to do at least three simple and routine health tests. These tests are nothing to worry about, but are crucial for properly understanding your "heart age".
The cholesterol test
Cholesterol is a type of fat that is carried around our bodies in the blood.
It's vital that we have enough cholesterol for our bodies to work properly, but evidence strongly indicates that too much cholesterol and too much bad cholesterol can increase the risk of vascular diseases.
Cholesterol can build up in the walls of the blood vessels and stop or slow the flow of blood to your heart, brain and the rest of your body.
At an NHS Health Check, your cholesterol will be tested to see whether it is too high. Your health professional will take a sample of blood from you by using a needle and syringe, or by pricking your finger. You won't need to fast in advance of this blood test.
Afterwards, your healthcare professional may discuss your cholesterol result. If necessary, you'll be offered advice and support to help you achieve a healthy level of cholesterol.
The blood pressure test
Blood pressure is the force that your blood exerts on the walls of your arteries. When your blood pressure is too high, your heart has to work harder to pump blood around your body. Over time, this can weaken your heart. High blood pressure also places a strain on the walls of your arteries, making a blockage more likely.
This means that having high blood pressure is a big problem, because it increases the risk of serious health problems such as heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.
High blood pressure is common. Around 30% of adults in England have it but many don't know they do as it often presents no symptoms.
During an NHS Health Check, your blood pressure will be tested. Your GP, practice nurse or other health professional will use a cuff that fits around your upper arm and is inflated so that it becomes tight.
The test is quick and painless, and most people will have experienced it before.
If your blood pressure is found to be high, you will be offered a blood test to check the function of your kidneys. You may also be offered a test to check your risk of developing diabetes.
Body mass index (BMI)
BMI is a measure of whether you're a healthy weight for your height. You can find out your BMI now by entering your details in a BMI healthy weight calculator.
Your BMI matters because people with an high BMI are at greater risk of a range of serious health conditions, including heart disease, stroke and certain cancers.
At your NHS Health Check, your will be measured and weighed by a healthcare professional. These measurements will be used to calculate your BMI. Your waist circumference may also be measured using a tape measure.
Diabetes risk assessment
Diabetes occurs when the body doesn't produce enough insulin, or the insulin doesn't work properly. Insulin is a hormone that allows cells to take in sugar to be used for energy. It can cause a wide range of health problems and can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Your health professional will take your personal history and blood pressure and BMI test results into account to assess whether you're at an increased risk of developing diabetes.
If you are found to be at risk of type 2 diabetes, you will be offered further tests to check the level of sugar in your blood (either a "finger-prick" test or a blood sample). If your blood sugar is high, you will then need to go on for further testing to establish if you have diabetes.
Getting your NHS Health Check results
The second part of an NHS Health Check is a discussion of your results with a trained healthcare professional. This will often happen at the same appointment as your tests, or you may be asked to return for your results at a later date and you may be asked to have further tests.
Your results will be given to you as an overall risk score, telling you how likely you are to get heart disease or stroke in future. The results from each test will also be broken down so that you know which areas you need to take action to improve. You can find out more about this in Understanding your NHS Health Check results.
Your healthcare professional will give you personalised advice and lifestyle support to help you lower your risk and maintain or improve your vascular health. The best action for you will depend on your results. You may receive advice on how to get more physical activity into your daily routine, or how to eat a healthier diet.
If you're at high risk, you may be offered relevant treatments. Statins, for example, are a medication that help to control cholesterol levels. There are other medications that help to lower blood pressure when it's raised.
Whatever changes you're trying to make, there's lots of helpful information and advice on NHS Choices. You can start with Take action to improve your results.