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

Typically, when you visit a GP practice for the first time, you’ll be asked a list of questions. This “New Patient Check” is a free check-up of your overall health. The answers and results can help your GP understand you better and address any current or future health issues.  

The GP health check in the Evergreen Life app asks similar questions and can help YOU get a picture of YOUR health from an NHS viewpoint. The questions fall broadly into 2 types; health measurement type questions like your age, whether or not you smoke, your blood pressure, body mass index, gender and ethnicity. We also include 3 self-rated questions - what you think and feel about your overall health, diet and stress levels. Subjective questions are a very important aspect of measuring health and wellbeing. It's worth noting that alcohol merits its own check and is not included for that reason.

This article addresses the questions you’ve answered and will help you understand more about your score.

Weighing it up

When you complete the GP check you are asked to enter your height and weight measurements from which your BMI (body mass index) is automatically calculated. Anything between 18.5 and 25 is an average BMI reading. A BMI over 25 suggests you’re overweight and above 30 indicates obesity. BMI is an important and commonly used measurement for health.

Overall, a very high BMI is linked to an increased risk of illness from heart disease and musculoskeletal 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.

However, it’s not completely reliable, as it doesn’t distinguish body fat from muscle and bone. 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. Similarly people with more muscle, and people who are tall often have higher BMI even though they are fit. Measuring your waist circumference can give you a better idea of your heart disease risk than BMI. Some GP’s use that measurement in addition.

Heart rate

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 60 beats per minute 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. If your heart rate is over 100 beats per minute on many occasions at rest, it is worth contacting your GP.

Blood pressure: know your numbers

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 for a healthy reading lie between 90-120 for systolic and 60-80 for diastolic.

👩🏼💡If your blood pressure is greater than 140 systolic and/or 90 diastolic you should make sure your GP is aware of your reading.  
🍷🍺 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.  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. Other ways of making high blood pressure less likely include losing weight and reducing salt.

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 there’s still a risk, 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 can be easier with the right kind of help. Your pharmacy or GP practice will be very happy to help you. There are lots of effective things you can buy, and you could try other things like coaching or hypnosis.

There’s also a whole host of resources online that can help you on your journey to cutting down on the cigs. There are some useful resources for stop smoking in the references below.

You are what you eat

Eating well is one of the best things we can do to keep ourselves healthy. As well as tasting good, food provides the nutrients, vitamins and minerals and trace elements that our bodies need to function. Our diet and whether it has all the essentials, not only impacts our health but also our energy levels and capacity to enjoy life .

Most people in the UK eat and drink too many calories, too much saturated fat, sugar and salt, and not enough fruit, vegetables, oily fish or fibre. There are links to further reading at the end about what a healthy diet looks like.

Stress

Stress is difficult to define which is why we have asked you to rate it yourself. It’s a natural response and designed to keep us safe short-term but in the long-term it is depleting. Too much stress can affect our mood, our body and our relationships – especially when it feels out of our control. It can make us feel anxious and irritable, and affect our self-esteem.

Experiencing a lot of stress over a long period of time can also lead to a feeling of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, often called burnout.

Of course, reducing stress is easier said than done.  But, there are steps you can take to help. Firstly, start by identifying the cause of your stress and work on how you can resolve it, dealing with one issue at a time. Also, ensure you've got time to relax and unwind, to do the things you enjoy.

📞 If you're struggling with stress, it's best to speak to someone. You can discuss with your GP or call Samaritans free on 116 123 if you want to talk to someone now.

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 we asked you in this GP check, 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.

References