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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 to 74 to prevent premature death from:

It does this by checking for 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.

It's also designed to look for the early signs of dementia.

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 does not guarantee that you will not get a serious health problem such as 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 kind, 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 cannot 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.

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 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 risk factors for other conditions, including preventable cancers and respiratory illness. So the NHS Health Check could reduce your chance 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.

Too much or too little treatment

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

The cardiovascular 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, an inaccurate risk score may mean that you receive treatment you do not really need. Or, it could mean that you do not 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 do not yet know whether NHS Health Checks save lives, but the latest research suggests:

  • for every 30 to 40 people having an NHS Health Check, 1 person is diagnosed with high blood pressure
  • for every 80 to 200 people having a Health Check, 1 person is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes
  • for every 6 to 10 people having a Health Check, 1 person is identified as being at high risk of cardiovascular disease

Furthermore, these problems were successfully found almost 3 times as often in people who had an NHS Health Check than in those who did not.

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.

The older you are the higher your risk, so you could benefit more from attending your NHS Health Check appointment.

On balance, having the NHS Health Check is much safer than not having it.

Further information

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