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General health check-ups may be a waste of time

New research shows that health check-ups do not reduce rates of disease or death.

GENERAL HEALTH CHECK-ups are not as beneficial as we may have previously thought.

The Nordic Cochrane Centre in Copenhagen, who carried out the research involving more than 180,000 patients, say offering these services should be stopped because visiting the doctor may cause undue stress.

The Danish researchers say that check-ups are unlikely to find a condition that needs treating and so do not reduce deaths overall or deaths from cancer and heart disease.

Other harmful effects of check-ups include over diagnosing patients and turning healthy people into patients, which may affect how they view themselves.

To help explain the findings, researchers say their results might be because of the types of people who take up the offer of screening – worried patients who are fit and healthy and are interested in their own health. While those who might have symptoms and show signs of illness keep well away, or those who only visit their healthcare professional when they have symptoms.

Lead researcher Lasse Krogsboll, of the Nordic Cochrane Centre in Denmark, said:

From the evidence we’ve seen, inviting patients to general health checks is unlikely to be beneficial. We’re not saying that doctors should stop carrying out tests or offering treatment when they suspect that there may be a problem. But we do think that public healthcare initiatives that are systematically offering general health checks should be resisted.

Findings were based on 14 trials involving 182,880 people in a number of different countries. In one trial, health checks led to more diagnoses of all kinds, in another, the health check group were more likely to be diagnosed with high blood pressure or high cholesterol, and in three trials large numbers of abnormalities were identified in the screened groups. However, based on nine trials with a total of 11,940 deaths, the researchers found no difference between the number of deaths in the two groups in the long term, either overall or specifically due to cancer or heart disease.

The researchers concluded that offering general health checks has no impact on hospital admissions, disability, worry, specialist referrals, additional visits to doctors or time off work.

The review did not include studies on children or the elderly.

Does visiting the doctor for a general health check-up cause you undue stress?


Poll Results:

Sometimes (239)
No (237)
Yes (85)
It depends on the doctor (83)




Read: Only one in five entitled people availed of free dental exams last year >

About the author:

Amy Croffey

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