It has never been easier to get a health MOT. Many medical conditions don’t cause symptoms, but getting them identified and treated can hugely reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes and kidney problems. But what test do you need, and when should you get them done?
Your blood pressure
You won’t have any idea what your blood pressure is unless you get it measured. Lots of my patients think that they get headaches, or feel unwell, if their blood pressure is high. In fact, unless it’s dangerously raised (with an upper level above about 230 and a lower level above about 130) you won’t have any idea if your blood pressure has gone up. But high blood pressure hugely increases your risk of having a stroke or a heart attack. High blood pressure gets more common as you get older, about half of over 50s have high blood pressure. That’s why you need to get it measured at least every five years if you’re over 40, and at least once or twice a year if you have diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease or a history of high blood pressure.
Almost all of us worry about our weight at some point. It can feel as if the media – and your doctor – is obsessed with giving you advice about your ‘ideal’ weight. But keeping within the ‘ideal’ range of weight, compared to your height, (called your BMI, or body mass index) cuts not just your risk of heart attack and diabetes but also arthritis and breathing problems. Ask your GP or practice nurse about your ideal weight.
Your waist size
If you tend to carry excess weight around your midriff (in other words, if you’re an ‘apple’ rather than a ‘pear’) you do need to watch your risk of diabetes and heart disease. The waist size of your trousers is only accurate if you wear your trousers around the widest part of your weight. Measure your waist at the point half way between the bottom of your ribcage and the top of your pelvic bone, when you’re breathing out. There’s no point in cheating! If your waist size is more than 35 inches (if you’re a woman) or 40 inches (if you’re a man), do make an appointment about whether you need to be checked for these conditions.
On the whole, the lower your cholesterol, the lower your risk of heart disease. However, one kind of cholesterol (HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol) can actually protect you against heart disease. It’s the ratio of total to good cholesterol which really counts. You should have your cholesterol measured at least once in your lifetime – and at least once a year if you have a history of heart attack, stroke, diabetes or kidney disease, or have been told your risk of heart disease or stroke is more than 20% over the next ten years.
Who’s best to check my health?
Your practice nurse is the first stop for advice about general health checks. She can measure your weight, blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol, and can give you an idea of how you can improve your health. She can also tell you about other health checks you’ll be offered routinely (depending on your age) – like cervical smears, mammograms and screening for colon cancer.
Many private health companies offer comprehensive screening packages with a huge selection of blood tests and scans. However, not all of them will actually improve your health – talk to your GP first about which tests are worth having.
With thanks to 'My Weekly' magazine where parts of this article was originally published.