Health

The health checks to book in for (even if you think you’re healthy)

September 3rd 2017 / Anna Hunter / 0 comment

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The notion of a general check-up has become old fashioned (in Britain at least) but there are some health checks you should never skip, even if you feel fighting fit. There are also a couple you might not need to bother with…

Getting a once over by your doc on a regular basis is no longer common practice in the UK- with the NHS at capacity, “medicals” have fallen by the wayside, but specific health checks are still a vital screening process, and depending on your age, changes in your body or medical history, it’s still vital to book in for certain health checks, even if you’re feeling healthy and showing no apparent symptoms. Here’s your guide to some of the most common health checks available, and which ones you might need to schedule in (or not).

Cervical screening (smear test)

We’ll start with the biggie, and the one that we all know we mustn't ignore, yet “smear fear” often throws a spanner in the works. No longer.

Why get tested?

To check for any abnormal cells or cellular changes on the cervix. Spotting abnormal cells early, and in some cases removing them, can help to prevent cervical cancer.

Who should get tested?

Women aged 25 and older.

What the test involves

Bupa Medical Director Dr Luke James explains the procedure:

“The test itself only takes a couple of minutes and will be carried out by your nurse or GP. Your nurse or GP will ask you to undress from the waist down. They will then ask you to lie on your back with your legs drawn up, ankles together and knees apart.Your nurse or GP will use an instrument called a speculum to gently open your vagina, so that they can see your cervix. They will take a cell sample from your cervix using a small brush.You may find the test uncomfortable but it doesn’t usually hurt. Try to relax and breathe normally. The sample is then sent to a laboratory for testing.”

How often to get checked

“It’s really important to have these tests every three years to ensure that any abnormalities are picked up early.”

The NHS recommends that women between the ages of 50-64 be tested every five years, and from 65 onwards only women who haven’t been screened since the age of 50, or who have recently had abnormal test results, are advised to attend cervical screening.

Mammogram

Why get tested?

To identify breast cancer early (according the the NHS one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime).

Who should get tested?

“In the UK, breast screening is offered to women aged between fifty and seventy”

You may also be invited for a breast screening at an earlier age if you have a higher than average risk of developing breast cancer, and a new trial programme run by the NHS is also expanding treatment ages in some areas, so you could be invited from the age of 47 or up to the age of 73.

What the test involves

“During the screening, your breasts will be X-rayed one at a time. The breast is placed on the X-ray machine and gently but firmly compressed with a clear plate. Two X-rays are then taken of each breast, from different angles.”

How often to get checked

Every three years according to Dr James, but he emphasises the importance of ‘self-checking’ in between scans:

“Check your breasts regularly (see here for a ‘how-to’ guide), no matter your age, and if you are at all worried about a lump or changes to your breast, it’s really important to see your GP, who can refer you for additional investigation, if needed. Our Bupa female health assessments also include a mammogram, regardless of your age.”

Mole Check

Why get tested?

If you have moles on your face and body, keeping a regular check on them is essential so that you can monitor changes for your own peace of mind. Cadogan Clinic dermatologist Dr Susan Mayou advises keeping an eye on new moles in adulthood in particular, as opposed to ones we acquired in childhood, as these reflect sun behaviour.

Who should get tested?

As above, if you have moles it’s wise to get tested, but if you notice any irregularities in shape, size, colour or texture of moles, see your GP or book a check-up at a private clinic immediately.

What the test involves

A dermatologist led test (the only type of mole check approved by the British Skin Foundation) will involve a dermatologist checking skin from head to toe to assess if any moles look or feel abnormal. Cadogan Clinic dermatologists take a history of sun exposure and scan skin using a dermascope- a handheld magnifying lens with an inbuilt camera. If any moles raise a red flag, your dermatologist would photograph them with the dermoscope and decide a course of action. If there were several that needed monitoring Dr Mayou would recommend ‘Mole Mapping’, where a high spec camera photographs every inch of your skin in high-res detail so that any changes can be seen with pinpoint accuracy. Mole mapping gives you a full report, including photographs, of the state of your skin, which is yours to keep for any future consultations.

How often to get checked

NHS and NICE guidelines recommend having your moles checked by an expert every six months. If you’ve had a mole removed, it’s every three months.

Blood pressure test

Why get tested?

If you are at all concerned about your blood pressure or heart health. High blood pressure can strain your organs and arteries, possibly leading to stroke and a heart attack. Conversely, low blood pressure isn’t as dangerous to health, but you may experience light headedness, dizziness or fainting episodes.

Who should get tested?

Those with a family history of stroke, heart disease and hypertension (high blood pressure) should get checked regularly, as should women taking the contraceptive pill.

What the test involves

Most of us have had one before, but Dr James clarifies the process:

“Having this test is really simple, and completely pain free – a GP or a pharmacist will use a device called a sphygmomanometer, which is strapped around your arm for less than a minute. The cuff of the device is pumped up to restrict blood flow to your arm – after a few seconds, the pressure is slowly released while a stethoscope is used to listen to your pulse. You’ll know your reading instantly.”

How often to get checked

Dr James lays out the timetable:

“If you don’t have high or low blood pressure you should only need to get your blood pressure checked once every five years. However, if you are on certain forms of contraceptive pill you will have your blood pressure checked more frequently, as some types of the pill can increase blood pressure.”

Cholesterol check

Why get tested?

To determine the level of good (LDL) and bad cholesterol (HDL) in your blood, alongside other fatty substances called triglycerides. You levels could relate to your risk of heart attack and stroke now and in the future.

Who should get tested?

The NHS recommends that the following groups monitor their cholesterol levels:

Those diagnosed with coronary heart disease, stroke or mini-stroke (TIA), or peripheral arterial disease (PAD).

Those over the age of 40 – people over 40 should have their estimate of CVD risk reviewed regularly.

If have a family history of early cardiovascular disease- for example, if your father or brother developed heart disease or had a heart attack or stroke before the age of 55, or if your mother or sister had these conditions before the age of 65.

If you have a close family member who has a cholesterol-related condition, such as familial hypercholesterolaemia.

If you are overweight or obese.

If you have high blood pressure or diabetes.

If you have another medical condition, such as kidney disease, an underactive thyroid, or an inflamed pancreas (pancreatitis) – these conditions can cause increased levels of cholesterol or triglycerides.

What the test involves

A straightforward blood test.

How often to get checked

According to Dr James, there’s no rule as to how often you should have this test, but if you are particularly worried about your cholesterol levels, speak to your GP, and if any of the above circumstances apply to you your GP or specialist may recommend regular testing.

Eye test

Why get tested?

To keep an eye on (sorry) your vision and any potential eye conditions- as eyes don’t ‘hurt’ per se some issues can be hard to spot yourself.

Who should get tested?

Everyone, but if you notice any changes in either your sight or eye health get to the optician’s stat. It’s particularly important to get tested regularly if you suffer from diabetes, are over the age of 70 or suffer from glaucoma (or have a family history of it).

What the test involves

Dr James lays it out:

“During the test, your optician will ask you about any problems you’re having with your eyes or any issues you might have had in the past. You’ll then do the classic ‘letter chart’ test, whereby different lenses are placed in front of either of your eyes whilst your optician uses different techniques to fine-tune your prescription. The optician will also look into your eyes with a bright light to check the health of the inside of the eyes.”

How often to get checked

Dr James recommends getting your eyes tested every two years – even if your vision is fine, as your inner and outer parts of the eye are also assessed during a sight test, which can bring any health issues to light.

Urine test

Why get tested?

This isn’t a regular one to book in for, but if your doctor wants to diagnose or rule out certain conditions or infections (for instance, a UTI), they’ll test your urine. Of course a urine test is also the most common way to test for pregnancy.

Who should get tested?

As above, if you have certain symptoms or suspect you could be pregnant, visit your GP and they’ll take a urine sample.

What the test involves

You probably know this already, but Dr James gives you the deets:

“A urine test is very straight forward – you just need to pee into a small cup midstream, and the sample is then tested as needed.”

How often to get checked

“There’s no need to have these done at regular intervals, but it’s likely that you’ll have one of these a few times during the course of your life, to establish the potential cause of any symptoms you might have or to test whether you’re pregnant.”

Anaemia test

Why get tested?

To detect if you’re deficient in iron.

Who should get tested?

If you’re experiencing palpitations, shortness of breath, extreme fatigue or pale skin, visit your GP and they’ll likely suggest an anaemia test. Iron deficiency is most common in women.

What the test involves

It’s a simple blood test.

How often to get checked

Dr James emphasises that there’s no reason to have this test regularly, unless you are particularly worried about your iron levels, or you have a history of low iron levels.

Vitamin checks

Anaemia aside, most people don’t need vitamin and mineral checks- the NHS can advise as to who should supplement their diet at different life stages, and your GP will be able to tell you whether you're likely to require additional supplementation depending on your personal health. Home testing kits are available, but most are expensive and unnecessary according to Dr James- see your GP or book a Bupa Health assessment if you’re in any doubt.

A mole check by a consultant dermatologist at the Cadogan Clinic, including a physical check and up to three close up images with the dermoscope costs £299 (with Dr Mayou £449).

The Mole Check package includes a full mole check and dermoscopy, mole map, one mole removal, histology and report for £699.

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