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NHS Health Check

Pros and cons of the NHS Health Check

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The NHS Health Check is offered to everyone aged 40-74 to prevent premature death from:

It does this by picking up warning signs that your risk of these health conditions is higher than average. You can then be given lifestyle advice – and possibly medical treatment – to bring your risk down.

Some warning signs of cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, are "silent", which means they have no symptoms. So you can feel well even though your risk is raised.

By attending your NHS Health Check, such "silent" problems can be uncovered and treated.

As with any medical information about you, your NHS Health Check results will be treated confidentially.

However, having an NHS Health Check doesn't guarantee that you won't get a serious health problem like heart disease or stroke. It only tells you your risk of this happening and advises you on how you can lower your risk.

As with medical tests or advice of any sort, there are small drawbacks to having an NHS Health Check:

  • you may be falsely reassured by the results or advice – for example, your overall risk score might be better than average even though your body mass index (BMI) or cholesterol are high
  • you may be worried by the results you're given, especially if much of it is based on factors you can't control, such as illnesses that run in your family
  • you may not receive the right follow-up tests or treatment

It's natural to worry about what your test results may show. But a better approach is to try to balance the benefits of an NHS Health Check against the possible drawbacks.

Benefits of an NHS Health Check

The tests work

The tests that form part of the NHS Health Check have been proven by large long-term studies to be able to detect serious health problems and work out your risk of getting these problems.

Knowing your risk factors helps you

Finding out that you have a risk factor for a health condition can be really helpful because you can take action to improve your health.

For example, if you find out your blood pressure is too high, you can make lifestyle changes to lower it, such as:

It may also prevent cancer and respiratory illness

The NHS Health Check is mainly aimed at lowering your risk of getting cardiovascular illnesses (diseases that affect the heart and blood vessels) such as heart disease and stroke.

But the risk factors for heart disease and stroke are often the same as for other illnesses, including preventable cancers and respiratory illness.

So the NHS Health Check could reduce your chances of getting certain cancers and respiratory illness, too.

You get a one-to-one health chat

The NHS Health Check gives you an opportunity to sit down with a health professional and talk about your health.

There's good evidence that spending time with a doctor or another healthcare professional to discuss exercise and other lifestyle issues can have real long-term benefits.

Risks of having an NHS Health Check

Too much or too little treatment

There has been concern that the NHS Health Check could potentially lead to over- or under-treatment.

The risk score you are given at the end of your Health Check is only an estimate of how likely you are to get certain illnesses in the future.

While the chances are small, inaccurate risk scores may mean that you receive treatment you don't really need. Or, it could mean that you don't get the treatment you could benefit from.

Does the NHS Health Check save lives?

There is discussion about how many lives are saved and how much disability is reduced by the NHS Health Check.

We don't yet know whether NHS Health Checks save lives, but the latest research suggests that:

  • for every 27 people having an NHS Health Check, one person is diagnosed with high blood pressure
  • for every 110 people having a Health Check, one person is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes
  • for every 265 people having a Health Check, one person is diagnosed with kidney disease

Furthermore, these problems were successfully picked up almost three times as often in people who had an NHS Health Check than in those who did not.

Balancing the pros and cons

The NHS Health Check is routinely offered free of charge to eligible people because it's believed the potential benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

By picking up hidden health problems and tackling them early, you will live longer and in better health.

If you're at the older end of the eligible age range to have an NHS Health Check, you're at a higher risk, so you could benefit more from attending your appointment.

On balance, having an NHS Health Check is much safer than not having one.

Find out what to expect on the day of your NHS Health Check.

Find out more about what your NHS Health Check results mean.

In this video, Nichola talks about her NHS Health Check experience.

Page last reviewed: 26/11/2019
Next review due: 26/11/2022