NHS Health Check: the basics
Why do I need an 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.
Find out more about why to get an NHS Health Check.
How do I get an appointment for an NHS Health Check?
You will receive an invitation to an NHS Health Check if you are between the ages of 40 and 74 and are not already on a disease register. If you have not received an invitation, you will receive one, but you may have to wait. The NHS Health Check should happen once every five years so you can see if your risk has changed.
Read more on how to get an NHS Health Check or search for the NHS Health Check programme in your area.
Where will my NHS Health Check happen?
This varies across the country. In some areas, the NHS Health Check will be done by your GP at their surgery. But in other areas NHS Health Checks are conducted in sport centres, pharmacies, schools, town halls and even in special mobile test centres.
If you’re not registered with a GP, it's a good idea to register now.
You can find your local GP surgery in Find and choose services.
Read more on how to get an NHS Health Check.
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.
Find out more about what to expect.
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.
Can I do an NHS Health Check online?
The full check cannot be done online. As well as testing your blood pressure, cholesterol and BMI levels, the NHS Health Check involves a healthcare professional listening to your health concerns and advising you on the best ways to improve your health.
However, if you are over the age of 30, you can now take the online heart age test, which, based on the information you put in, can give you an idea of what your risk might be.
What if I’m not old enough for an NHS Health Check?
The NHS Health Check programme is aimed at people aged 40 to 74. If you are not old enough for an NHS Health Check, you will soon be able to do a free pre-check online (currently in development). If you are especially worried about your health, you can always book an appointment with your GP and they may give you an early NHS Health Check if they think it is necessary.
The article How do I get one? also gives alternative ways of getting the tests available in the NHS Health Check.
If you have urgent concerns about your health, call NHS 111 for advice.
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.
How long does an NHS Health Check take?
The NHS Health Check takes around 20-30 minutes. Make sure you attend on time, and leave a little time in your day in case your appointment lasts slightly longer than expected (for instance, if you need further tests) or the appointments are running a bit late.
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.
Is the NHS Health Check embarrassing?
No. There should be no embarrassing questions, and you shouldn't have to remove any clothes (unless you're wearing a top with tight-fitting sleeves that would make taking your blood pressure difficult). You can request to be seen by a male or a female healthcare professional if you prefer.
Does the NHS Health Check involve taking clothes off?
No. You should wear comfortable, loose clothing when attending an NHS Health Check appointment as you will have to roll up your sleeve to have your blood pressure measured. You may also have a blood sample taken from your arm to measure your cholesterol level, although this is often done as a "finger-prick" test.
To learn more about what happens during your check, see What happens at an NHS Health Check?
NHS Health Check: the science
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What does the NHS Health Check test for?
The NHS Health Check involves:
- measuring your height (to help calculate your body mass index (BMI))
- weighing you (for BMI)
- taking your blood pressure (using a gauge that uses a cuff fitted over your upper arm)
- taking a sample of blood to measure your cholesterol level
- questions about you (such as your age), your medical history (such as whether you have previously had heart or circulation problems), your family history (whether any of your close relatives have had medical problems) and any symptoms of diabetes (such as the need to urinate a lot)
- questions about your lifestyle (such as your level of physical activity, whether you smoke and how much you drink)
- if necessary, you may need further tests, such as a finger-prick test to measure your blood glucose if the healthcare professional thinks that you may have diabetes
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. 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 disease.
NHS Health Check: privacy
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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.
Who sees the NHS Health Check results?
The results of the NHS Health Check will be given to you. They will also be recorded in your standard medical records which can be accessed by your GP and other healthcare professionals who need to see it if you consult them. Read more information about your medical records.
Are NHS Health Check results confidential?
Yes. As with any medical information about you, your NHS Health Check results will be treated confidentially.
NHS Health Check: myths
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The NHS Health Check hurts
False. The NHS Health Check involves a series of questions and being weighed and measured. It also involves having your blood pressure measured using a cuff that tightens over your upper arm and this may tingle or feel slightly uncomfortable. It also involves having a blood sample taken, which should involve a very brief pin-prick sensation.
The NHS Health Check takes hours
No, this is a myth. The NHS Health Check only takes around 20-30 minutes. However, it may take longer if your results suggest you need further tests, such as an ECG to measure your how well your heart’s working.
Your employer will see your NHS Health Check data
No. The results of your NHS Health Check will be entered into your medical record which will be treated confidentially by healthcare professionals. You may be given a summary of your results or can ask for copies of your medical records and you can keep these private or share them as you see fit.
If an NHS Health Check finds you are unwell there is nothing you can do
Wrong. The NHS Health Check will work out a good estimate of your risk of conditions such as heart disease or stroke over the coming years. If you are at high risk, there is plenty that can be done to reduce your chances of having these conditions, including changes to your diet, levels of physical activity or even preventative medication.
The NHS Health Check is embarrassing
No. There should be no embarrassing questions, and you shouldn't have to remove any clothes (unless you have a top with tight-fitting sleeves that would make taking blood pressure difficult). You will be weighed and measured by your healthcare professional and you should try not to feel embarrassed about this as it’s being done for your benefit. You can ask to see a male or a female healthcare professional if you prefer.
The doctor puts their finger up your bum during an NHS Health Check
No. A “digital rectal examination” is used by doctors to detect problems with the prostate gland in men with certain symptoms, such as problems passing water. This is not part of the NHS Health Check.
If you feel that you have cause for complaint following an NHS Health Check, read more about the NHS complaints system.