9 Health tests that could save your life for over 50s | 붯

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9 health tests that could save your life

We all worry about our health as we get older. But, by having some routine health checks, you can spot any problems in the early stages when they're easier to treat.

Prioritising your health during strike action

There are strikes taking place in some parts of the health service. However, it’s really important that if you’re unwell or need urgent or emergency medical care that you still contact the NHS for help.

  • For urgent medical care visit or call 111.
  • For emergency care or in life-threatening situations call 999.

Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening

AAA screening is a way of checking if there’s a bulge or swelling in the aorta, which is the main blood vessel that goes from your heart down through your abdomen.

What’s involved?

The screening test involves an ultrasound on your stomach. It's very quick, painless and reliable.

Why is the test important?

The aorta pumps blood from the heart around the body. If a swelling in the aorta is left to get bigger it could burst, causing life-threatening bleeds inside the stomach. An abdominal aortic aneurysm won’t often have symptoms so the test can pick up an AAA before it bursts.

How often should you get checked?

In England, screening for AAA is offered to men in the year they turn 65. AAA screening is offered to men because aneurysms are more common in men. Screening isn’t routinely offered to women, men under 65 or people who’ve already been treated for an AAA as the risk of an AAA is much smaller in these groups.

You can ask for an AAA screening if you think you might need one.

What happens next?

You'll be told the result at the end of the screening. If a problem is found you'll be sent a letter telling you about any further tests and treatment you may need.

Blood pressure tests

Blood pressure is the force that your blood exerts on the walls of your arteries. Common symptoms of low blood pressure include nausea and dizziness. High blood pressure, however, rarely has noticeable symptoms but can weaken your heart and damage the walls of your arteries, increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. 

What’s involved?

Your pharmacist, practice nurse or GP will use a cuff that fits around your upper arm and is inflated until it becomes tight. The test is quick and painless and only takes a minute. You can even buy a monitor to use at home.

Why is the test important?

66% of men and 71% of women aged 75 and over have high blood pressure – but many don’t realise it as they often have no symptoms.

What happens next?

If your results fall outside of the normal range you'll need to have it checked several more times. If your blood pressure is found to be consistently high, your GP will talk to you about how to lower it.

You may be offered a blood test to check the functioning of your kidneys and a test to check your risk of developing diabetes. Treatment may include lifestyle changes, and if these aren't successful or your blood pressure is very high, you're likely to be prescribed medication.

If your blood pressure is low, your GP may suggest lifestyle changes to help raise it, such as making sure you drink enough water.

Bowel cancer screening

Bowel cancer screening doesn’t diagnose cancer, but it can detect potential problems before a person has symptoms.

What’s involved?

The testing kit, called a Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT), is sent through the post along with instructions. You use it to collect a stool sample, which you then send to a laboratory for analysis. You should receive the results of the test within 2 weeks.

Screening is offered every 2 years to all men and women aged 60 to 74 – but it's also gradually being rolled out to people over the age of 50, so you might get a test before you're 60. People over 75 can also request a screening kit by calling the NHS's freephone helpline 0800 707 60 60.

Why is the test important?

Bowel cancer is the 4th most common cancer in the UK and the sooner it's detected, the easier it is to treat and the better your chance of surviving it.

What happens next?

The test looks for traces of blood. If there's any sign of this, you'll be asked to discuss the possibility of more tests. This doesn’t mean that you have bowel cancer, but you may need a bowel examination called a colonoscopy to rule out this possibility. A small percentage of people will have an abnormal result and will need follow-up tests.

Breast screening

Most experts agree regular breast screening is a good way to pick up breast cancer early – and the earlier it's found the easier it is to treat. The main risk is that breast screening sometimes picks up cancers that may not have caused any symptoms or become life-threatening. So you may end up having unnecessary extra tests and treatment. 

What’s involved?

An x-ray of each breast, called a mammogram, is taken. Each breast is placed in turn on the x-ray machine and is gently but firmly compressed with a clear plate. The compression only lasts a few seconds, but some people do find this slightly uncomfortable.

Why is the test important?

There are around 55,500 cases of breast cancer found every year in the UK, and it's the most common type of cancer for women in the UK to have. As with all cancers, early detection and treatment increases your chances of surviving it.

How often should you get checked?

You'll receive your first invitation to attend your local breast screening unit sometime between your 50th and 53rd birthdays. From then on, you'll be invited every 3 years until your 70th birthday. In some areas, you'll be invited from the age of 47 and until the age of 73 as the NHS is in the process of extending the screening programme as a trial. 

Although you might not receive an invitation for screening once you reach 70, you can request a screening every 3 years. You can contact your local breast screening service directly to request an appointment.

What happens next?

The results will be sent to you and your GP, usually 2 weeks after the screening. Most people receive a normal result but some may be asked to go to an assessment clinic for more tests.

Cervical screening

Cervical screening, also known as a smear test, is a method of preventing cancer by detecting abnormalities in the cervix which, if left untreated, could lead to cervical cancer.

What’s involved?

A doctor or nurse inserts an instrument called a speculum to open the vagina and uses a small soft brush to sweep around the cervix. Most people say it’s slightly uncomfortable but not painful.

Why is the test important?

About 2,700 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed each year in the UK. Since the screening programme was introduced in the 1980s, the number of people dying from cervical cancer has halved.

How often should you get checked?

All women aged 25-64 are eligible for a free cervical screening test every 3-5 years. Women over 65 aren't usually invited for screening unless they haven't been screened since the age of 50 or have had an abnormal result in any of their 3 most recent tests.

What happens next?

Your nurse or doctor will tell you how long the results are likely to take. Most screening results are normal, but if you're recalled, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you have cancer. For around 1 in 12 women, the test shows some abnormal changes which will require further investigation and treatment.

Cholesterol tests

Cholesterol is a type of fat that's carried around the body in the blood. High levels of cholesterol can build up in the arteries and increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke.

What’s involved?

You can have your cholesterol level measured by visiting your GP or local pharmacist. It involves either a blood test or a finger-prick test.

Why is the test important?

High cholesterol doesn’t cause any symptoms, so you could have it without knowing. The only way to find out is to have a test.

What happens next?

If you have high cholesterol you can lower it by changing your diet, maintaining a healthy weight and taking regular exercise. If you already have heart disease or are at risk of developing it, your GP may prescribe cholesterol-lowering medicines such as statins.

NHS health check

The NHS Health Check is a free check-up of your overall health. It can tell you whether you're at higher risk of getting certain health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease and stroke.

What’s involved?

An NHS Health Check takes about 20-30 minutes.

The health professional will ask you some simple questions about your lifestyle and family history, measure your height and weight, and take your blood pressure and do a blood test – often using a small finger-prick test.

Why is the test important?

Based on the results of your questions and blood test, your health professional will be able to give you an idea of your chances of getting heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and diabetes.

If you're over 65, you'll also be told the signs and symptoms of dementia to look out for.

You'll then receive personalised advice to lower your risk.

When will I be invited for an NHS health check?

You'll be invited for a free NHS Health Check every 5 years if you're between 40 and 74 years of age and don't already have heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease or high blood pressure.

If you're registered with a GP surgery that offers the NHS Health Check, you should automatically get an invitation. Don't worry if you haven't been invited yet – you will be over the next 5 years.

Alternatively, your local council will send you an appointment letter explaining where you have to go for your NHS Health Check.

If you're not sure if you're eligible for an NHS Health Check and would like one, or if you are eligible but haven't had an invite for an NHS Health Check in the last 5 years, ask your GP surgery for an appointment. 

Skin checks

Whether you check yourself or visit a specialist clinic, keeping an eye on moles can help you to spot the early signs of skin cancer. Most moles are harmless, but sometimes they can develop into a rare form of skin cancer called malignant melanoma.

What’s involved?

If you notice a change in the colour, size or shape of an existing mole ask your GP to look at it and, if necessary, refer you for further testing.

Why is the test important?

Melanoma is the 5th most common cancer in the UK with around 16,700 new cases diagnosed each year, and as with all cancers, early detection and treatment increases your chances of surviving it.

How often should you check your body?

You should check all your moles every few weeks and see your doctor if you notice any changes.

What happens next?

If you find a suspect mole you'll be referred for further tests and a specialist may decide to cut the mole out. If it's found to be a melanoma you may need further tests to check that the cancer has not spread.


People usually recover from the flu, pneumonia or shingles without any ongoing problems. However, having one of these infections in later life can cause serious health problems, and can be fatal. Your best protection is to get vaccinated.

What’s involved?

Ask your GP surgery for more information and whether you can get these vaccinations for free under the NHS. You may also be able to get your flu jab from your local pharmacy.

Why is it important?

Influenza and pneumonia are the fourth most common cause of death in people over 65 years. Shingles can cause serious long-term complications and can sometimes be fatal.

How often should we get vaccinated?

If you’re 50 or over, you can get a free flu jab. The flu jab is needed each year because the flu virus constantly changes and the vaccine is updated to give the best protection. If you’re under 50 but have a long-term condition (for example, diabetes, heart disease, lung disease), or if you’re a carer, you might still be eligible for a free flu jab.

You can get a free, one-off combination jab for pneumonia, septicaemia and bacterial meningitis if you’re 65 years or over, or if you have a certain long-term condition.

If you’re aged between 70 and 79 you can get a free, one-off shingles jab but when you can get this vaccine will depend on your date of birth. Ask your GP surgery for more information about eligibility. 

Coronavirus booster jabs

The Coronavirus spring booster vaccination is being offered to certain groups. Visit the NHS website to find out if you're eligible.

Want more information?

NHS services factsheet (828 KB)

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Last updated: Jun 24 2024

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