What preventive screenings and tests are recommended for people over 50?

25/08/2023

As we age, staying on top of our health needs becomes increasingly important. Regular check-ups and preventive screenings become key tools in managing our health and catching potential issues early, and for those over 50, these screenings form an integral part of maintaining wellness and detecting diseases in their earliest, most treatable stages. 

So, what screenings and health tests are recommended for those over 50? Let’s take a look.

What are preventative screenings?

Preventive screenings are medical tests conducted to identify and monitor potential health problems before they progress into more severe diseases. These screenings differ from diagnostic tests, which are usually performed to determine the nature of specific symptoms or conditions. Instead, preventive screenings are often routine, typically focusing on early detection of diseases that have a higher likelihood of affecting individuals as they age.

Common preventive screenings can include blood pressure checks, cholesterol levels, mammograms for breast cancer, and colonoscopies for colorectal (bowel) cancer, among others. They might involve simple physical examinations, blood tests, imaging procedures, or more specialised tests depending on the disease being screened for.

Why are preventative screenings important?

Preventive screenings play a crucial role in early disease detection and management: this is because many serious conditions, like cancer and heart disease, often have few or no symptoms in their initial stages. Regular screenings can therefore help spot these diseases early when they are most treatable, significantly improving outcomes and survival rates.

These tests also provide valuable insights into one's health risks, allowing for proactive management of potential issues. By understanding any medical susceptibilities they may have, those over 50 can make informed lifestyle changes and work with their GP to develop personalised preventive strategies.

Moreover, preventive screenings contribute to overall public health efficiency by reducing the prevalence of advanced disease, leading to fewer hospitalisations and less strain on NHS resources. This aspect of preventive care is essential, especially in the context of an ageing population and the associated increase in chronic disease prevalence.

What screenings should you get after 50 in the UK?

The age of 50 marks a pivotal point in preventive healthcare, as many health risks tend to increase significantly beyond this age. The following are some recommended screenings for those over 50 in the UK:

Blood pressure check

High blood pressure can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and other health issues. Regular screenings, often performed annually, can help manage and control blood pressure effectively. You can get these done at your local GP surgery or even in your local Boots pharmacy for free (provided that you meet certain conditions).

Cholesterol check

Increased cholesterol levels can contribute to heart disease. Starting from age 40 or earlier, cholesterol should be checked every five years, or more frequently if there are risk factors for heart disease.

Diabetes screening

Diabetes can lead to several complications if left unchecked, and diabetes is more common in the elderly population. Regular blood glucose tests can help identify pre-diabetes or diabetes early.

Bowel cancer screening

From age 50, both men and women should undergo regular screenings for colorectal cancer, as the majority (94%) of bowel cancer cases occur in those over 50. Currently, the NHS offers bowel screenings every 2 years to those aged between 60 and 74*, so always make sure to keep on top of these appointments, especially as rescheduling them can mean being put on a months-long waiting list. 

*After 74, the risk of complications during bowel screening increases, which is why the NHS has opted for this cut-off age. However, you can still request an at-home screening kit if you’d like; this is usually recommended if you have a family history of bowel cancer, or if you have any conditions that increase your bowel cancer risk; this includes ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. 

Breast cancer screening

Mammograms are recommended for women aged 50 and over to detect breast cancer early; these routine screenings are available every three years on the NHS to women aged 50-70.

Osteoporosis screening

Bone density scans can be useful for women aged 65 and over, or post-menopausal women with risk factors, to detect osteoporosis. However, there is currently no national screening programme for osteoporosis in the UK. That being said, if your GP believes that you may have osteoporosis, you should be eligible for a DEXA scan, a screening used to detect the condition.

Going private with symptoms

While preventive screenings aim to catch health issues early in asymptomatic individuals, it's important to remember that these screenings are not exhaustive. If you develop worrying symptoms like rectal bleeding, bloody stools, lumps, persistent pain or discomfort, unexplained weight loss, or any significant change in your health, seeking immediate medical attention is crucial.

If you’re concerned about NHS waiting times in your area, health insurance for individuals over 50 can provide quick access to screenings and specialist consultations, often with shorter wait times. This prompt response can be invaluable in identifying potential health issues, allowing for immediate intervention, and improving the likelihood of favourable outcomes when dealing with time-sensitive conditions. Health insurance providers like Aviva DigiCare+ even often annual health checks, where you can get tested for 20 different health markers to assess your risk of diabetes, cholesterol and gout, as well as your liver, kidney and bone health.

 

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