What happens during a health check, and what happens afterwards?
The invitation and making the appointment
Your GP will know that you are eligible for an annual physical health check, and will send you an invitation to make an appointment.
If you have not had an invitation, and have not had a check on your physical health over the last year, it would be a good idea to contact your GP surgery. You could ask your care coordinator or key worker to help you contact them.
In summary, during a physical health check, your GP will do a few tests, will ask some standard questions, and depending on the results will offer advice and support on ways to improve your health. The health check appointment will last about 30 minutes. It is likely to be in one room, with one person.
Your GP may start by carrying out some initial checks to see where your health might be at greater risk. Your blood pressure and pulse will be tested. Your GP will ask you questions about your family’s medical history, such as whether other family members have suffered from high blood pressure (hypertension), heart or circulatory problems, diabetes, neoplasm (which could be cancerous), or respiratory disease. Your GP will ask about misuse of illegal drugs.
Your body mass index (BMI) will be checked, which is calculated from your height and weight. Waist circumference is also an important measure. Depending on the results, you may be offered weight loss advice.
You will be asked some questions about how much physical activity you take. For instance, how much physical exercise have you taken in the last week? Do you cycle or go out for walks? Does your work involve physical activity? Have you spent time gardening in the last week, or doing housework? You will also be asked about your usual diet. Depending on the results, you may be offered a combined healthy eating and physical activity programme.
You will be asked about your smoking status. For instance, if you are a current smoker, how many cigarettes do you smoke, and how long have you been smoking? If you have stopped smoking, when did you stop? Do you use electronic cigarettes? Are you trying to give up smoking? You may be offered smoking cessation advice or be referred to a smoking cessation service.
You will be asked how many units of alcohol you drink in a week, or if you are a teetotaller. Depending on the answer to those questions, there will be further questions about drinking habits and any impact drinking has had on your life. You may be given advice if alcohol consumption is excessive, or referred to a specialist alcohol treatment service.
The GP will take blood samples to carry out a number of investigations. Blood test results will provide information about liver, renal and thyroid function. Blood sugar levels and lipids (including cholesterol) will be tested, as well as Lithium and Prolactin levels. You are likely to have fasting blood sugar levels checked – this will be by taking a blood test after a period of fasting, usually of 8 hours without food and just drinking water. If results suggest that you are at a high risk of developing type 2 diabetes, you may be offered intensive structured lifestyle education.
If your GP thinks you may be at risk of cardiovascular disease, it may be requested that you have an ECG (electrocardiogram which looks at your heart’s rate, rhythm and electrical activity). This might be the case if physical examination shows a specific cardiovascular risk, such as high blood pressure, or if you have a personal history of cardiovascular disease.
Your GP will assess you for side effects of medication that you are taking. Antipsychotic medication and psychotropic drugs can have side effects. Some people may experience movement disorders, sexual dysfunction, an impact on appetite, oedema, painful joint movement, anxiety, depression, nose bleeds, lethargy, insomnia, toothache or genitourinary symptoms.
After the appointment
Depending on the results of all the tests and investigations, your GP will offer advice on how to improve your physical health, or initiate treatment for any problems identified. As mentioned above, you may be offered weight loss advice, a combined healthy eating and physical activity programme, smoking cessation advice or a referral, advice about alcohol consumption or a referral, or, if you are at risk of diabetes, you may be offered intensive structured lifestyle education.
The follow up interventions offered will be designed specifically for your needs, and will take into account your preferences. The aim will be to work with you to counter any problems that the physical health check has identified, and so to improve your health today and plan for better health in the future.