Once you’re over 65 you’ll continue to be invited to undergo a variety of health checks, and there will also be some new ones.
As you get older, you’re more likely to develop conditions that are rare in younger people. Because of this, you’ll be invited to undergo some new screening and health tests, while the screening that began earlier in adulthood for different types of cancer will continue. The earlier conditions can be detected, the greater the chance that they can be dealt with effectively.
From 65, women will no longer be sent an invitation for cervical screening unless they’ve had a previous abnormal screening result from any of their last three screening tests. Women who’ve never been screened are entitled to request an examination, regardless of their age.
Breast screening continues by invitation up to the age of 70 (this is gradually being extended to 73). Once over the screening invitation age, women are encouraged to make their own screening appointments every three years. This can be done by contacting your local screening unit.
Men and women over the age of 65 continue to be offered bowel cancer screening in the form of a faecal occult blood testing (FOBT) kit in the post every two years until the age of 70. From 70 onwards, people can request screening, but are not invited automatically.
If you have diabetes, you should already be attending yearly screening tests for sight-threatening diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy screening usually takes place at your GP’s surgery, local optometrist or local hospital. If evidence of retinopathy is found, you’ll be referred to an eye clinic for treatment to help prevent future damage to your sight. If all is clear, you’ll just be invited to be screened annually.
The NHS Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) Screening Programme is being introduced nationwide. The programme’s aim is to reduce deaths from abdominal aortic aneurysms (also called ‘AAAs’ or ‘Triple As’) through early detection.
The aorta is the main blood vessel that supplies blood to your body. It runs from your heart down through your chest and abdomen. In some people, as they get older, the wall of the aorta in the abdomen can become weak. It can then start to swell and form what is called an abdominal aortic aneurysm. The condition is most common in men aged 65 and over.
As part of the screening programme, all men will be offered screening when they reach 65 and those over-65 can request it. If they accept the invitation or request screening, a simple and pain-free ultrasound scan of the abdomen will be done to measure the width of the aorta.
In addition to the screening programmes discussed above, there are a wide range of medical tests that you may encounter, typically at the recommendation of your GP.
The New Patient Health Check
Whenever a new patient registers with a GP, selected tests are carried out as part of the new patient health check. Here’s what to expect. Your GP will:
– Measure your height and weight.
– Check your vaccinations are up to date.
– Ask about your general health.
– Offer advice about diet and physical activity if appropriate.
– Ask you for a sample of urine to check for diabetes. If your test is clear, you don’t need to have a further diabetes test unless you develop symptoms.
– Check your blood pressure. The British Hypertension Society advises that all adults have a blood pressure check every five years, or every year if you have high blood pressure or are over 75. High blood pressure can put you at raised risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. If your blood pressure is found to be high, your GP can advise you on diet and lifestyle changes, and medication that will help to lower it.
Cholesterol is a body fat, or lipid, found in the blood. It plays a vital part in normal body function but if the levels of cholesterol are too high then you’re at risk from heart disease. This is because fatty deposits build up and clog your arteries.
To check if your cholesterol levels are healthy, cholesterol charity Heart UK recommends that all adults over 40 are tested. This is particularly important if:
– a family history of cholesterol problems or heart disease,
– you have high blood pressure, or
– you are obese.
If you’re suffering from symptoms such as tiredness, faintness and difficulty breathing, it’s possible you may have anaemia. If you’re concerned, your GP can check this by doing a blood test to measure the level of red cells in the blood.
The thyroid is a gland that produces hormones that regulate the body’s metabolism (the rate at which it uses energy). If it isn’t functioning properly you may experience health problems.
Symptoms of an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can include:
– hoarse voice,
– weight gain,
– rough, dry skin.
Symptoms of an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) include:
– excessive crying or over-emotional behaviour,
– short attention span,
– increased appetite, and weight loss.
If you have these symptoms, your GP may recommend a blood test to check your thyroid function.
Lung and airway function
A range of conditions can affect your lung or airway function. To assess your lung function, your GP can perform a peak flow test, where you’ll be asked to blow hard into a hand-held peak flow meter. If there seems to be a problem, your GP may recommend you undergo further investigation.
Heart disease and congenital heart disorders
If you suffer from one of a range of heart conditions, your doctor may recommend that you have an electrocardiogram (ECG). An ECG records the rhythm and electrical activity of your heart.
Your GP can conduct a blood test, called a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, that looks for signs of prostate cancer. Many early prostate cancers cause no symptoms, but if they do occur they can include increased frequency of urination, a weak stream of urine and the sudden, urgent need to urinate. Most men with these symptoms do not have prostate cancer. Two out of three men with a raised PSA level will not have prostate cancer. And a normal PSA level is sometimes found in men with prostate cancer.
Osteoporosis is a condition that causes bones to become brittle and fragile. It’s most common in women over 50, and symptoms include a tendency to fracture easily. If you show signs of early osteoporosis, a DEXA bone scan can help determine whether you have the condition or are at risk of developing it.
The government recommends that everyone at high risk has a blood test for kidney disease every year. The people most at risk of kidney disease are those with:
– high blood pressure,
– vascular disease (conditions that affect the heart, arteries and veins, such as coronary heart disease or stroke), heart failure
– a close relative with kidney disease.
Glaucoma occurs when the fluid that travels within the healthy eye becomes blocked and builds up pressure. This can lead to vision becoming damaged, and may eventually cause loss of sight. Most cases of glaucoma are detected at a routine eye check-up.
The NHS offers free sight tests to anyone over 60, those already diagnosed with the condition, and those who are over 40 and are the parent, sibling or child of a person diagnosed with glaucoma.