Have your health checked for free with an NHS health check.
Everyone is at risk of developing heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease and some forms of dementia. The good news is that these conditions can often be prevented.
The NHS health check invites adults aged 40 to 74 - without previously diagnosed heart disease, diabetes or chronic kidney disease - for a free health assessment. The check aims to identify those at risk of serious, but potentially avoidable, conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease and certain types of dementia.
The NHS health check is an important step for many people towards improving their lifestyle and becoming more aware of what they can do to minimise health risks. The NHS health check can help lower people's risk of developing heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of dementia.
Think of the NHS health check as being a "midlife MOT". It checks that some of your body's most important systems are all running smoothly. Crucially, your NHS health check can detect potential problems early and allow you to put them right before they do real damage. Among other things, your blood pressure, cholesterol and BMI (body mass index) will all be properly checked.
Receiving an NHS health check
Having an NHS health check is both quick and straightforward. Your GP will invite you to have one so please look out for the invite letter. It's free of charge, including any follow-up tests or appointments. You can also ask at your GP surgery for more information.
See the NHS health check interactive website for more information about what happens at the NHS health check, when and how to get one, and how to lower your risk.
Additional information from NHS Choices
See the NHS Choices pages below for more information on NHS health checks:
- NHS Choices - what happens at an NHS health check?
- NHS Choices - your NHS health check results
- NHS Choices - testing for the biggest killers
Further information about NHS health checks
Your NHS health check may vary depending on where it takes place but it shouldn't last more than 20 minutes to half an hour.
During the NHS health check you will:
- 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; and
- 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. See the what happens at an NHS Health Check? page on the NHS Choices website for more information.
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; and
- 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 ten 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 per cent 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. Your BMI matters because people with a 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 height will be measured and you will be 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.
Together, these conditions are the biggest cause of preventable deaths in the UK. Each affects the body in a different way, but they are all linked by a common set of risk factors. Having one of these conditions can increase your risk of developing another.
Some of the risk factors are things that you can't change, such as your:
- family history
But most of the risk factors are things that can be changed, including:
- being overweight
- amount of physical activity
- blood pressure
See the testing for the biggest killers page on the NHS Choices website for more information about these conditions.