The top 10 health check-ups
Slightly worried about your health, but no idea where to start? Here’s the most useful tests to make sure you stay in tip-top condition.
An eye test not only checks your vision, more importantly, it can detect signs of a number of potentially serious conditions, such as diabetes and even brain tumours, often before you have any symptoms. Over the age of 60, you’re entitled to a free NHS sight test every two years and, if you’re aged 70+, you could be entitled to a free test annually.
Over half of UK over 60s has some degree of hearing loss, making regular tests essential. Poor hearing can lead to isolation as well as depression, and has even been linked to dementia. Again, tests are free, and modern hearing aids are unobtrusive.
Untreated tooth trouble regularly leads to gum disease, ulcers, blood infections, severe pain and even gum erosion, so regular check-ups are a must as they can often pick up other undiagnosed medical conditions, including mouth cancers.
Bowel cancer screening
Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK – eight out of 10 people who suffer are over 60. Bowel cancer screening is offered free every two years to 60 -74 year olds. It’s simple and can detect potential problems early – even before noticeable symptoms. Your GP may then recommend a bowel examination (colonoscopy) to rule out cancer. About 2% of people will need follow-up tests.
Cervical cancer is the eleventh most common cancer in women, but early detection and treatment prevents up to 75 per cent of cancers developing. Cervical screening, which targets women aged 25 to 64, aims to cervical detect abnormalities before they can develop further.
While there is no national screening programme for prostate cancer, getting a check done through your GP can prove a lifesaver. These symptoms can include needing to go to the toilet more often, and difficulty weeing, as well as blood in the urine or semen. Be aware that many men suffer from some of these symptoms from having an enlarged prostate gland, which is actually a benign condition, so don’t panic.
Cholesterol is a type of fat that is carried by the blood around the body – high levels can clog the arteries and increase your risk of heart attack or stroke. High cholesterol doesn’t cause any symptoms, so the only way to find out is to take a simple blood test. Monitoring the levels can inform decisions to take more exercise or change your diet. GPs may also recommend statins in certain cases.
Blood pressure tests
High blood pressure can weaken your heart and damage your arteries, increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. In the UK, about 50% of people over 65 have high blood pressure, but many don’t realise it. A straightforward blood pressure test will tell the doctor immediately if there is a situation that you need to address. It’s free and should be done annually.
A third of breast cancers are now diagnosed early through screening – given women a far greater chance of survival. You will be invited for a mammogram between your 50th and 53rd birthdays and then every three years until you reach 70. After that, you can request a mammogram every three years. By 2016, women should be routinely screened up to age 74.
Deaths from melanoma have tripled in the last 30 years for people over 65. Skin cancer is linked to sun exposure over a lifetime, so older people are more likely to develop the disease. Monitor your skin (and ask someone to check your back from time to time too), and if you notice a strange mole, ask your GP to look at it. If he is concerned, he will refer you for further testing. You should look out for a change in colour, size or shape of existing moles.