Do you know if your blood pressure is dangerously high? Or if your blood sugar levels mean you’re on the verge of type 2 diabetes? These problems can usually be picked up during vital tests carried out at your GP surgery.
But, at present, routine screening and annual health check-ups are suspended, to allow more time to deal with acute problems and Covid-19 cases. So, with heart health and diabetes being risk factors, monitoring your own health has become crucial.
With this in mind, here are the essential health checks you can do right now, from home. There’s every chance they may save your life.
At present, routine screening and annual health check-ups are suspended, to allow more time to deal with acute problems and Covid-19 cases, says Eve Simmons
A TOE TAP TO CHECK YOUR HEART
How often: Once a month
More than a million Britons suffer a common heart rhythm problem, putting them at risk of a deadly stroke.
Yet the condition, called atrial fibrillation, often goes unnoticed, with the symptoms passed off as tiredness or anxiety. But a 60-second test, completed roughly once a month, can flag-up warning signs.
Sitting on a chair, put your first two fingers of one hand over your wrist on the other arm, or at the side of your neck, until you can feel your pulse. For one minute, tap your feet every time you feel your pulse beat.
If the heart rhythm is normal, toe taps will be evenly spaced. But if the tapping is irregular – very fast and then slower – it could be a sign of atrial fibrillation.
‘If you’re tapping regularly, it’s OK, but if the tap is consistently uneven you should visit your GP,’ says Dr Howard Marshall, a consultant cardiologist at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham. The doctor will do further tests and can prescribe a range of treatments.
THE CHAIR TEST THAT WARNS OF A PAINFUL FALL
How often: Twice weekly to monthly
Falls are the most common cause of injury-related fatality in the UK. Muscle mass declines sharply as we age, causing a third of over-65s to suffer an accident every year.
Health chiefs recommend twice- weekly strength-boosting activities, such as yoga or lifting weights, to prevent this. But first, find out how much exercise you can manage with a simple strength test.
More than a million Britons suffer a common heart rhythm problem, putting them at risk of a deadly stroke (file photo of a woman checking her pulse)
Standing with your back to a chair and feet wide apart, slowly sit down, but don’t let your bottom reach the chair. Then slowly stand again. Try to repeat the exercise continually for 90 seconds. If you can manage more than a minute, your strength is above average. Anything under 30 seconds indicates very poor strength in the thighs and buttocks – the largest muscle groups.
If you perform poorly, practise the exercise twice weekly, or perform gentle yoga to build up strength. Otherwise, over-65s should test themselves monthly, or before adopting a new exercise regime.
A PIN-PRICK FOR DIABETES
How often? Every two to three months
With regular health checks for over-40s on hold this year, millions will miss their first warning sign of type 2 diabetes. A blood test called HbA1c which measures average blood sugar levels can indicate diabetes, and prediabetes – when levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be considered diabetic.
Simply prick your finger to draw blood and send off the sample, which is analysed in a laboratory (file photo)
Diagnosis at this point is crucial, as lifestyle changes such as weight loss can stop the condition progressing. Home HbA1c tests available online are almost identical to the one carried out by the GP.
For a kit, go to a reputable pharmacist, or try monitormyhealth.org.uk, which is NHS-backed.
Simply prick your finger to draw blood and send off the sample, which is analysed in a laboratory.
The measurement used is mmol/mol. Anything below 42mmol/mol is considered normal.
If you have no other symptoms but score highly, repeat the test once a month for three months to see if you get the same result.
Regardless of the test, if you have telltale symptoms of diabetes, such as feeling constantly thirsty and going to the toilet more than usual, tiredness, blurred vision and thrush, call your GP.
TAKE A LIFE-SAVING PICTURE
How often: Every two months
No one knows your skin better than you do. That’s why self-checking is the best way to spot the suspicious changes in moles that might indicate skin cancer.
If you have more than 20 moles on one arm, you may be at a higher risk of developing melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer – according to scientists at King’s College London.
While there are hundreds of smartphone apps that claim to track and monitor skin changes, dermatologist Justine Hextall suggests taking pictures of high-risk areas, and reviewing them every two months.
Use the dermatologist-recommended ABCDE rule to help you spot something worrying.
If you have more than 20 moles on one arm, you may be at a higher risk of developing melanoma (file photo of a big skin mole that should be inspected by a dermatologist)
Watch for A: asymmetrical shape, B: borders that are jagged, c: colour change, d: diameter above 6mm and e: evolution from its regular appearance.
If you notice any of the above, or bleeding or itching, call the GP immediately.
Non-melanomas are far less risky and don’t develop from a mole, but spread occasionally. These usually appear as a bump that is red, cracked, blistered and spot-like.
THE VITAL CHECKS YOU SHOULD NEVER STOP DOING
Life-saving screenings for bowel, cervical and breast cancer are now delayed – potentially denying millions that crucial, early diagnosis. So spotting your own lumps and bumps is more important than ever. But this doesn’t mean doing a specific test monthly – or even every week.
Instead, experts advise touching and examining your body as regularly as possible, such as in the shower. This helps you get to grips with your ‘normal’, so you are more likely to notice abnormalities.
Get used to how breast tissue feels and looks at different times of the month. If you notice any change in the breast or nipple shape, size or sensation, call your GP.
A similar approach applies to the size and shape of the testicles.
Look out for blood in the loo, as changes in bowel habits can be a warning sign for bowel cancer. It’s important you flag this up with a doctor as soon as you notice it.
Test to avoid heart attack in two minutes
By Dr Ellie Cannon
One in four people suffer a health problem that can lead to a sudden heart attack or stroke. Yet the majority have no idea they have it.
I’m talking about high blood pressure – when the heart is working too hard to pump blood around the body.
High blood pressure is usually symptomless. So without testing, the first warning might be a medical emergency.
Often, simply exercising and cutting alcohol, salt and smoking is enough to drop it, writes Dr Ellie Cannon (file photo of a stethoscope)
We test blood pressure as routine at appointments. But this year, with reduced access to GP surgeries, thousands of patients will remain unchecked. So I am urging everyone to take their own blood pressure once every six months at home.
There are several reliable at home blood-pressure kits on the high street, costing as little as £10. The monitor on the kit will show two numbers – if the higher one is above 140 and the lower one above 90, repeat the test everyday that week, morning and evening. Record the results and at the end of the week, arrange a call with your GP. They may suggest blood tests (which are still possible in surgeries and hospital clinics) that spot associated cardiovascular risks such as diabetes and high cholesterol.
Often, simply exercising and cutting alcohol, salt and smoking is enough to drop it.
Otherwise, there is a range of more than 40 different tablets we can use, all of them highly effective.