The NHS offers a free health check every five years for anyone aged between 40-74, which helps you to determine if you’re at higher risk of health conditions like heart disease, diabetes or suffering a stroke. But, what if you haven’t turned 40 yet?
Health experts like Dr Sunny Jutla, a Specialist Digital Clinician at Medichecks, recommend regular health checks, even if you’re under 40. Why? Because early diagnosis can help to manage and even reverse certain medical conditions, reducing your risk of conditions like heart disease in the future.
If you want to look after your ticker, or get to grips with body health markers generally, then here are some things you can ask your doctor to check.
Cholesterol level check
Cholesterol is a naturally occurring fatty substance that’s crucial for our cell health. But, when it creeps into high amounts, it can be detrimental to our overall health.
High cholesterol can be caused by several things. Dr Jutla says: “Certain lifestyle factors can increase your risk of high cholesterol, for example eating lots of fatty foods and smoking – two habits that are relatively common in young people.”
But it’s not just lifestyle that can affect cholesterol levels – genetics can play a part too.
“Having a family history of high cholesterol also increases your risk,” says Dr Julta.
According to the NHS, more than two in five people have high cholesterol, which increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. Thankfully it can be a quick and easy thing to find out.
“You can take a cholesterol blood test from home, and once you’ve received your results you’ll be able to start making any to reduce your levels, for example cutting back on alcohol and smoking and exercising for at least 150 minutes a week,” Dr Julta advises.
Screening for skin cancer
Skin cancer is now the most common type of cancer in the UK, with cases continuing to climb.
“The good news,” says Dr Julta, “is that most types of skin cancer can be cured, but early diagnosis is key.”
She stresses how important it is to regularly check your skin, particularly areas often exposed to the sun. Saying that – you should look for any areas that have changed colour or texture and look closely for any changes to moles you may have.
“There are plenty of helpful guides to follow when checking your skin,” she says, “If you notice any changes, you should visit your doctor as soon as possible. They can take a look and do a biopsy to test for cancer if necessary.”
Iron blood test
If you’re feeling tired all the time, or have low on energy, shortness of breath and pale skin you might be experiencing low iron which can cause anaemia.
Dr Jutla says developing anaemia can lead to complications like an increased risk of infections if left untreated and that it’s a very common condition.
“You can develop anaemia if you don’t eat enough iron-rich foods or if you regularly take steroids or NSAIDs, like ibuprofen. It can also be caused by heavy bleeding from illness, injury or heavy periods,” she explains.
A simple blood test can help you discover if you have an iron deficiency, which can be done by your GP after you’ve discussed symptoms.
“If you discover you have an iron deficiency, your doctor might recommend daily iron tablets. You can also eat more iron-rich foods, like red meats or spinach to help increase your iron levels,” says Dr Julta.
Blood pressure check
Did you know your local pharmacist can check your blood pressure? That’s right, no waiting rooms required.
Dr Jutla explains that knowing your blood pressure can help doctors watch out for things like heart disease and monitor stress levels.
“High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, can increase your risk of a number of medical problems including strokes and heart attacks,” she warns.
Up to five million people in England alone have undiagnosed blood pressure, which is why it’s even more important to get it checked by a pharmacist or your GP.
“You can buy a blood pressure cuff to measure yours at home,” says Dr Julta. “If you discover your blood pressure is high, there are steps you can take to reduce it, like cutting back on alcohol, stopping smoking and exercising more regularly.”
Nutrition blood test
Your GP can offer a simplified blood test that looks at your vitamin and mineral levels. If anything is out of balance, you can speak with your doctor about lifestyle changes and dietary improvements you can make to look after your health.
Dr Jutla says: “A healthy, balanced diet should provide you with all the vitamins and minerals you need, but it’s not always easy to eat healthily if you’re on a busy schedule or trying to meet a tight budget. Certain food preferences can increase your risk of deficiencies, for example, being vegan can increase your chances of developing vitamin B12 or vitamin D deficiencies.”
There are plenty of supplements you can take if your doctor does find deficiencies and once you know what you’re up against, you can begin to make dietary changes. Your GP may even refer you to a nutritionist who can develop a meal plan with you.
It’s important to look after your health no matter your age - health checks aren’t just for those over 40. Early detection of many conditions can help to manage illness and some conditions can even be reversed through lifestyle changes, so, don’t wait until it’s too late!