Testing for the biggest killers
The NHS Health Check will assess your risk of developing heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease and some forms of dementia. Once you know your risk, you'll be given advice and assistance to help you reduce it.
What's the link between heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease and dementia?
Together, these conditions are the biggest cause of preventable deaths in the UK.
Each affects the body in a different way, but they are all linked by a common set of risk factors. Having one of these conditions can increase your risk of developing another.
Some of the risk factors are things that we can't change, such as our:
- family history
But most of the risk factors are things we can change, including:
- being overweight
- amount of physical activity
- blood pressure
To understand the impact these conditions have on the body, we need to look at the vascular system.
The vascular system
When your heart beats, it moves blood around your body through a series of elastic tubes called arteries and veins. Arteries carry blood away from the heart and veins carry blood back to the heart. This network of tubes is called the vascular system.
This continual movement of blood around your body is called circulation. The vascular system is sometimes called the circulatory system.
Healthy circulation is essential for your body to work properly. Blood carries oxygen and nutrients to all the tissues and organs in your body, including your heart, muscles and brain.
Why do arteries stop working?
The arteries that carry blood from the heart to the rest of the body can become blocked. This is the most common kind of circulatory illness.
A build-up of fatty substances, which stick to the inner walls of the arteries, makes them partially blocked (or "furred up") and blood can't pass through them properly. Over time, the arteries can also become less flexible. The "furred up" areas can develop blood clots that completely block the arteries, stopping blood passing through them.
This narrowing and hardening of the arteries is called atherosclerosis. It can happen over a period of years or decades without causing any noticeable symptoms. But if some arteries get so blocked that they no longer allow enough blood to pass through them, it can cause serious health problems.
How do blocked arteries relate to the vascular diseases?
When a part of the body is not supplied with enough blood, it suffers from a lack of nutrients and oxygen. This can damage tissues in that part of the body or, in some cases, kill the tissues.
NHS Health Check and heart disease
A heart attack most commonly occurs when a coronary artery (which supplies blood to the heart) becomes blocked by fatty deposits, or a blood clot caused by those deposits. This causes a sudden decrease in blood supply to the heart.
Your NHS Health Check will include a discussion with your GP or health professional of test results that are relevant to your risk of heart disease, such as blood pressure, cholesterol and body mass index (BMI).
The health professional carrying out your NHS Health Check will provide information and advice on how to maintain or improve your health, which will help to lower your risk of heart disease. If necessary, you'll be offered medicines that will help, or given NHS support to help you lose weight or stop smoking.
NHS Health Check and stroke
Stroke most commonly occurs when an artery that supplies blood to the brain becomes blocked by fatty deposits or a blood clot caused by those deposits, causing a sudden decrease in blood supply to the brain.
Your NHS Health Check will include a talk with your GP or health professional about test results that are relevant to your risk of stroke - such as blood pressure, cholesterol and BMI.
Whatever your results, your GP will give you information and advice on adopting a healthy lifestyle, which will help to minimise your risk of stroke and other vascular diseases.
If your risk is higher, you may be offered treatments that will help, such as medicines to lower blood pressure. You may also be offered support (free on the NHS) to help you stop smoking or lose weight.
NHS Health Check and type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is linked to a range of vascular diseases. It results in an increased level of glucose (a type of sugar) in the blood. If the blood glucose level is not kept under control, diabetes damages the blood vessels and increases the risk of stroke, heart disease and kidney disease. It can also lead to other health conditions, including eye problems. Proper management of diabetes reduces these risks.
At your NHS Health Check, your risk of developing type 2 diabetes will be assessed, through some straightforward questions and a few simple health tests. Afterwards, your GP or health professional will discuss your results with you.
If your results reveal that you're at a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, you'll be given information and advice on how to keep your risk low.
If you're at a higher risk, you may be offered a blood sugar test and NHS support to help you lose weight.
NHS Health Check and kidney disease
Kidney disease in its most common form is caused by changes in the arteries in the kidneys. These changes are usually caused by the side effects of high blood pressure. This can make the kidneys stop working properly.
At your NHS Health Check you will have a discussion with your GP or other health professional. This will include a discussion of the test results that are relevant to your risk of kidney disease, such as blood pressure.
Whatever your results, your GP will then give you information and advice on lifestyle changes that will help to minimise your risk of kidney disease and other vascular diseases.
If you're at higher risk, this advice may be combined with treatments, which could include medicines to lower blood pressure. You may also be offered support (free on the NHS) to help you stop smoking or lose weight.
NHS Health Check and vascular dementia
Vascular dementia is caused by problems with the supply of oxygen to the brain following a stroke or vessel disease. It is most commonly caused by a series of small strokes. The symptoms of vascular dementia can sometimes develop suddenly and quickly get worse. They can also develop gradually over many months. People with vascular dementia may also experience stroke-like symptoms, including muscle weakness or paralysis on one side of their body.
If you are aged between 65 and 74, you will have a brief talk about dementia with your GP or health professional at your NHS Health Check.
This will include:
- what the key signs and symptoms of dementia are
- what you can do to limit your risk of developing some types of the condition
- how to access support should you or someone you care for need further assessments for dementia
This should be supported by a leaflet that contains everything you need about dementia and how to access more information if needed.
Whatever your results, your healthcare professional will give you information and advice on adopting a healthy lifestyle, which will help to minimise your risk of certain types of dementia and other vascular conditions.
Who gets vascular diseases?
We are all at risk of vascular diseases. That risk increases with age. But the good news is that all of these conditions can be prevented, even if there's a history of them in your family.
There's plenty of evidence to show that people who are physically active, eat a healthy and balanced diet, maintain a healthy weight and don't smoke are much less likely to develop the main types of vascular diseases.
Your NHS Health Check will tell you and your GP what your risk is of developing these diseases. That means you can take action early, and greatly improve your chance of a healthier, longer life. Small, long-lasting changes to your lifestyle can make a huge difference. Learn more in What is an NHS Health Check?
Article provided by NHS Choices
Record managed by Oxfordshire Family Information Service