Most of us would never dream of driving our car without repairing a flat tyre, or not booking its M.O.T when it’s due. But, when it comes to our own health, so many important checks and tests get put off – or worse, are purposefully avoided.
Last year, a government campaign revealed that 1 in 3 women don’t take up the offer of a free cervical screening appointment when invited. The main reason for such low uptake given was ‘embarrassment’. But when you consider that two women die of cervical cancer – the disease this test helps detect – every day and that 83% of deaths could be prevented if everyone went for regular screenings, these health checks could literally save your life, even if they are a little invasive.
ZoomDoc Chief Medical Officer, Dr Kenny Livingstone is amongst the many health experts urging people not to delay overdue health checks for a moment longer:
‘Make this the year you pick up the phone and get up to date with tests, checks, vaccines and more – you’ll be glad you did,’ he says.
So which of these will you book in for first?
Often called ‘smear tests’, cervical screenings check the cells in your cervix for any changes. Anything unusual can then be treated before they become cancerous. The test is performed internally by a nurse using a speculum and takes a matter of minutes. You’ll be invited for your cervical screening every three years over the age of 25 and then every five years between the august of 50 and 65.
‘Remember, nurses carry out thousands of these screening tests and will do their best to make you feel at ease. Don’t miss out on a life-saving test because you’re embarrassed,’ urges Dr Kenny.
Book yours now: Call your GP practice to book your free NHS screening now.
All women are entitled to NHS breast screenings (mammograms) once you turn 50. You’ll then be invited to regular appointments every three years. These are vital in detecting breast cancer, which is most common in over 50s. And as with most cancers, the earlier you catch it, the better your chances of surviving it.
‘Before you’re eligible for mammograms, if you notice any breast lumps or unusual changes to the nipple area, see your GP, who will refer you for a screening to investigate things further. Don’t wait for your screening or to turn 50,’ says Dr Kenny.
Book yours now: Follow the steps on your screening letter or call your GP practice if you haven’t received one.
Even adults need to make sure they’re up to date with vaccines, such as seasonal flu, COVID and Shingles depending on your age.
Those eligible for free NHS flu vaccines include pregnant women and adults over 50 or who have certain health conditions. If you’re not eligible for a free one, you can pay for a private flu vaccine.
Most of us will, by now, have had our COVID vaccines but over 50s and other groups should also have had a seasonal booster.
Over 65s can also get a free combined jab for pneumonia, septicaemia and bacterial meningitis and over 70s are also eligible for an annual shingles vaccine.
And remember, ‘it’s never too late to have one you may have missed or declined when offered it, says Dr Kenny. ‘If you haven’t had your Flu or COVID vaccine, you can still have one so don’t think you’ve missed the boat,’ he says.
Book yours now: Contact your GP surgery if you’ve fallen behind with routine vaccinations. Book your COVID vaccine here.
Hearing checks are available free on the NHS, usually via a referral to an audiologist. However, it’s also possible to have yours tested at a pharmacy or optician’s such as Boots or Specsavers.
Regular hearing checks are one of 12 steps that could help reduce the risk of dementia in older age, too. It’s thought that struggling to hear causes social isolation and cognitive decline, which contributes to dementia or Alzheimer’s. Health experts believe that encouraging hearing checks from an early age will help ‘normalise’ hearing problems and hearing aids – and could even ward off dementia.
‘It’s an interesting link and I’d certainly recommend hearing checks for anyone with a family history of deafness or anyone with hearing concerns at any age,’ says Dr Kenny.
Book yours now: Contact your GP surgery for advice or ask at your optician’s for an appointment.
If you’re concerned about your blood pressure at any time you can check it yourself using a monitor at a pharmacy or your local GP practice – you’ll usually find one in the waiting area. Just ask the receptionist for assistance, if required.
‘I usually recommend patients to check theirs at least twice a year and more regularly if it is raised’ says Dr Kenny.
Once you’ve read yours you can enter it online here to get further information and tips for reducing it, if it’s too high.
NHS Health Check
Not many people know that the NHS offers a free Health Check to people over the age of 40. This is to check for conditions like stroke risk, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other conditions that become more likely as we get older. Your weight, cholesterol and blood pressure should all be checked as part of this, too.
This Health Check should take place every five years but there is a backlog, due to the pandemic.
Book yours now: You should receive a letter from your GP surgery or local council inviting you for your free NHS Health Check once you’re over 40. Call your GP practice if yours is overdue. ZoomDoc offers Well Person Health Checkups for businesses keen to keep employees as healthy as possible. These are available in person or as self-tests that can be completed from an employee’s office or home. Find more info on these here.
You don’t need to have a cholesterol test but if you’re overweight or have a family history of high cholesterol or heart problems, it can be a good idea to check yours from time to time. High levels of cholesterol can increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke. Once you’re over 40, it may get tested as part of your Health Check (see above). Cholesterol tests require either a blood test or a simple finger-prick test.
Book yours now: Your GP or pharmacy may be able to test yours. Alternatively you can purchase a home cholesterol test from ZoomDoc for £45.
Whether you sunbathed in last year’s scorching summer or enjoyed some winter sun abroad, make sure you don’t leave any unusual moles unchecked this year.
‘Most moles are completely harmless but if yours has uneven edges, is different colours, bleeds or changes shape – or you’re just worried about it – see your GP.’ says Dr Kenny. ‘It might be nothing, but it can be a melanoma, which is a form of skin cancer that needs diagnosing, removing and then further treatment may be required,’ he adds.
Book yours now: There are private clinics offering mole checks but your GP should be able to refer you to a dermatologist within two weeks.
Once you’re over 60 you should receive a bowel cancer screening kit in the post. This analyses stool samples and helps detect bowel cancer in its early stages.
‘Again, if you have a family history of bowel cancer or are concerned by any unusual symptoms or changes to bowel habits, see your GP whatever age you are,’ says Dr Kenny.
Book yours now: Your screening kit will be posted out to you. Or you can call the free bowel cancer screening helpline on 0800 707 60 60 once you’re over 75.
ZoomDoc also provides private bowel cancer screening test kits that you can purchase here for £49 without even leaving the house.
From cholesterol kits to thyroid checks, ZoomDoc provides a whole host of wellness tests to keep your health on track this year. Find out what’s on offer here.