Are Annual Health Checks Worth It?

Are Annual Health Checks Worth It? about undefined

Annual health checks are controversial.

Many people only go to the doctor when they feel sick, others regularly get their routine physical and recommended scans, while others still check every little thing, all of the time.

So, the debate rages on: Are annual health checks worth the bother or do they lead to unnecessary tests and treatments?

Two new studies claim to have found the answer…

The value of periodic health screening tests is also being debated among medical professionals with some leaders in healthcare calling for an end to annual health check visits, saying they’re a waste of time for both patients and physicians.

Scientists performed two recent studies to find out the truth. The first happened in England…

Routine Screening Not Common In The U.K.

While it’s routine for insured Americans to have a general check-up every year, that’s not the case in the U.K. where people usually only visit their doctor if they have symptoms that are troubling them.

To change this mindset, Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) introduced a free check-up for people aged 40 to 74 in 2009, designed to identify individuals at risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, liver disease and kidney disease. About half the people accepted the offer. The results were encouraging…

Reduced Risk Of Death By 23 Percent

To see if an NHS Health Check has any value, researchers from the University of Oxford used the UK Biobank resource - a massive medical database - to analyze 48,602 participants who attended the health check with the same number who didn’t.

Each attending participant was matched with another who didn’t attend but was similar in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, education, family history of disease, physical measures (weight, blood pressure etc.), and health behaviors (smoking, alcohol, exercise, vegetable intake).

After a follow up of nine years the Oxford team found those who attended, compared to those that didn’t, had lower rates of risk for the following:

  • Liver cirrhosis – 44 percent lower risk.
  • Cardiovascular mortality – 23 percent lower risk.
  • Death from any cause – 23 percent lower risk.
  • Acute kidney Injury – 23 percent lower risk.
  • Dementia – 19 percent lower risk.
  • Myocardial infarction (heart attack) - 15 percent lower risk.
  • Atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat) - 9 percent lower risk.

The researchers concluded in their paper, published in the journal BMC Medicine in January, that the NHS Health Check is effective at reducing the overall risk of long-term disease. But that wasn’t the only finding…

Memory Health and Heart Health Linked

As cognitive tests are not part of the NHS Health Check, the lower rate of dementia risk for those who chose to be evaluated in annual screenings was puzzling to researchers. Lead author Celeste McCracken suggested the reduction in risk for cognitive decline may be tied to lower cardiovascular risk through, for instance, blood pressure lowering medications or lifestyle modifications.

American doctors agree…

“Proven measurable benefits”

Researchers from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago did their own study and analyzed 32 studies on routine health screenings. They also concluded that annual health checks are of value because they lead to:

  • Chronic disease detection.
  • Reduction of risk factors.
  • Clinical preventive services uptake (more screenings and vaccinations).
  • Improved patient-reported outcomes - patients feel better after visiting the doctor.

The Northwestern team published their results in JAMA in 2021. Of course, the findings of both studies are not without critics.

Healthy People Turned Into Patients

Dr. James Le Fanu, a British GP (primary care doctor), newspaper columnist, and author of Too Many Pills is critical of screening for older people as it results in overprescribing. He quotes Margaret McCartney, a family doctor from Scotland, who complains that healthy people are being turned into patients.

“I am no longer there to make people better, I am there to find out what risk factors they might have, or could have, despite their feeling well and having no complaints at all.” They are “given preventative medication for something [they] will never get or treated for something [they] haven’t got.”

Dr. Le Fanu also provides many examples of patients who felt fine before their check up and then suffered the consequences. One woman in her mid-sixties who was an enthusiastic walker, dancer, skier, and gardener, was found to have mildly raised blood pressure. This led to a prescription after which suffered light-headedness and malaise. Her doctor dismissed her concerns saying she must continue to take blood pressure lowering medication or she might have a stroke.

Over the next 18 months her symptoms worsened, suffering with muscle cramps and then with back pain. She had given up all her previous activities as she could barely walk up the stairs.

Eventually she stopped the pills and bought a blood pressure monitor only to find that her readings were only mildly elevated. Within two weeks of stopping the medication all symptoms disappeared and she was able to return to performing the activities she loves.

It’s a fair point and one you can and should avoid when you take the “prescription drug as last resort” approach as we advise at Green Valley Naturals.

Our Takeaway

You see, it’s not the health screenings that are causing the problem, but how any resulting disease risk factors are addressed.

We’ve found that most disease risk factors can be addressed with normal, healthy lifestyle changes. These lifestyle changes almost always start with diet and exercise.

When you eat a heart-healthy, anti-inflammatory, memory-boosting diet filled with fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, healthy fats and supplements you’ll notice your disease risk factors plummet across the board.

When you keep your body active with regular physical activity and exercise, you’ll notice even more health benefits to your blood pressure, blood sugar, memory health and overall well-being.

There’s a time and a place for medications, of course, and using prescription drugs when all else fails will help you avoid any unnecessary side effects like Dr. Le Fanu reported. What’s more, you’ll improve your overall health, energy level and wellbeing—and you’ll do it naturally!

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