Checking up on your health: Why do GPs ask so many questions?

Typically, when you visit a GP for the first time, you’ll be asked a list of questions. These questions make up the New Patient Check, which is a free check-up of your overall health.

The GP health check questions in the Evergreen Life app ask about similar things and can help you get a picture of your health from an NHS viewpoint. This article addresses the questions you’ve answered and will help you understand more about your score.

What kind of questions do GPs ask?

In your usual check-ups, your GP or nurse may ask a range of general questions such as your height and your weight. There are questions about your lifestyle habits such as smoking, drinking alcohol, as well as the amount of exercise you’re doing. You may also be asked to recall whether there’s any history of certain conditions in your family.

During the check, your practice may run a few tests such as taking your blood pressure, heart rate and sometimes they’ll take blood samples.  

Why are these questions important?  

Asking these types of questions can give you and your health professional a better picture of your personal health. Your GP practice can then help you address any current or future health issues.  

Weighing it up

Calculating your height and weight measurements gives your BMI (body mass index) result. Anything between 18.5 and 25 is an average BMI reading. A BMI over 25 says you’re ‘overweight’ and above 30 indicates obesity.  

However, it’s not completely reliable, as it doesn’t measure body fat. You might be a normal weight according to your height, but you can still carry too much body fat and could experience some of the same risks as those who are more obviously overweight. Measuring your waist circumference can give you a better idea of your heart disease risk than BMI.

Overall, a very high BMI is linked to an increased risk of illness from heart disease and musculo-skeletal diseases, as well as reduced life expectancy and impaired mental health. When combined with other questions in the health check-up, it can give a fuller picture of your health.  

Keep your finger on the pulse

In your patient check, your doctor may carry out some simple tests to gain the first clues into your heart’s function. They may take your pulse in order to check your heart’s rate, rhythm and regularity. Each pulse matches up with a heartbeat that pumps blood into your arteries.  

A very fit person may have a lower heart rate which can be normal and healthy for them. However, if your reading is less than 60bpm and you don’t consider yourself to be particularly active, it’s advisable to book an appointment to see your GP. A very slow heart rate could be a sign of complications down the road.

No to tobacco

It’s no secret that smoking is bad for your health. In fact, half of all long-term smokers die early from illnesses like cardiovascular disease, lung cancer and chronic bronchitis. And there’s plenty of evidence that this risk still exists even if you smoke only a few cigarettes per day. Quitting will let you breathe more easily, give you more energy and help you live longer – at any age.  

Stopping smoking is very hard for most people, but your pharmacy or GP practice will be very happy to help you. You may need to try quitting a few times before you succeed. There are lots of effective things you can buy, so make sure you ask your pharmacist for ways to deal with the cravings.  

There’s also a whole host of resources online that can help you on your journey to cutting down on the cigs. Check out these 10 self-help tips to stop smoking.

Blood pressure: know your numbers

In your health check, your doctor or nurse might take a reading of your blood pressure. Put simply, blood pressure is the force with which blood moves through your blood vessels. And according to the British Heart Foundation, around 7 million people in the UK are living with undiagnosed high blood pressure, which has knock-on risks of heart disease, heart attacks, stroke and kidney disease.  

With all these potential risks linked to high blood pressure, it’s important to understand what your readings mean. You’ll get a reading of two numbers. The higher number is called systolic pressure which is the force at which the heart contracts and blood is pumped through the arteries. Diastolic pressure – the lower number – is the pressure between beats when the heart relaxes. Typical guidelines lie between 90-120 for systolic and 60-80 for diastolic.  

Find out how to balance your blood pressure levels here.  

Lose the booze

Blood pressure rises as you drink more alcohol. In general, the more you drink, the higher your blood pressure.  Over time, binge drinking seems to eventually raise blood pressure permanently.  

So, as usual, moderate levels of alcohol within the nationally agreed limits of 14 units a week are not likely to affect blood pressure, but higher levels will probably raise your blood pressure.  

If you have established blood pressure and are perhaps on treatment - lowering your alcohol intake may even lower your pressure to the extent that your treatment could be reduced. If you feel your alcohol consumption could be affecting your health, read more about alcohol misuse.  

Setting the records straight

Hopefully the GP health check questionnaire has helped you understand areas of your health that you may want to improve.  

With the questions, our aim is to help you build a more complete and accurate record of your health – all in the palm of your hand. All this information can be used as an easily accessible reference, so you’ll be able to monitor your health and share it with health providers at the point of care.