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Why are health checks important?

Even if you feel healthy, it’s important to have regular health checks. You might not have any symptoms, or you may only notice symptoms in later stages of an illness. Health checks can help identify health problems early.

Learn about what happens at a health check and how doctors measure your health.

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What happens at a health check?

At your health check, your doctor will ask about:

  • your medical history
  • your family’s history of disease
  • your lifestyle (e.g. your diet, weight, physical activity, and whether your drink alcohol or smoke).

Your doctor might also recommend an examination and other tests, such as urine or blood tests and scans.

Key health measures

It’s important to understand and keep track of key health measures so you can make changes if needed.

Blood pressure

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease. There are two blood pressure measures:

  • Systolic pressure – the pressure when your heart beats while pumping blood.
  • Diastolic pressure – the pressure when your heart rests between beats.

Normal blood pressure should be less than 120/80 (120 systolic pressure over 80 diastolic pressure).

High blood pressure often doesn’t cause any symptoms, so it’s important to have your blood pressure checked every two years from the age of 18. After the age of 45, it’s recommended you get your blood pressure checked when you have your annual health check.

If you have high blood pressure or other risk factors for heart disease, your doctor may want to check your blood pressure more regularly.

Blood cholesterol

Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in your blood. You need cholesterol for your body to work properly, but too much is a problem. Your liver makes most of the cholesterol in your body. The rest comes from the food you eat.

Cholesterol is made up of:

  • low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol
  • high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.

LDL cholesterol is known as 'bad' cholesterol because it can stick to the arteries and cause cardiovascular disease. When a blood cholesterol reading is high, it usually means LDL levels are high. If your diet is high in saturated fat (e.g. fatty meats, butter, cheese) you may have higher LDL levels.

HDL cholesterol is known as 'good' cholesterol because it helps remove excess cholesterol from your body. High HDL levels are a good sign. You can increase HDL levels by eating more polyunsaturated fats such as safflower oil, salmon, walnuts and sunflower seeds.

A cholesterol test may also measure triglycerides – another kind of fat found in your blood. High triglycerides can increase your risk of heart disease.

Cholesterol levels

If your cholesterol levels are too high, it can increase your risk of heart disease. You may not have signs of high cholesterol, which is why it’s important to get your levels checked.

The recommended cholesterol levels depend on your risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Generally, the lower the LDL and the higher the HDL, the better.

Recommended guidelines for cholesterol levels

For the general population

  • Total cholesterol – less than 5.5 mmol/L
  • LDL (bad cholesterol) – less than 2.0 mmol/L
  • HDL (good cholesterol) – more than 1.0 mmol/L
  • Triglycerides – less than 2.0 mmol/L

For people at higher risk of heart disease

  • Total cholesterol – less than 4.0 mmol/L
  • LDL (bad cholesterol) – less than 1.8 mmol/L
  • HDL (good cholesterol) – more than 1.0 mmol/L
  • Triglycerides – less than 2.0 mmol/L

From the age of 45, it’s recommended you have a cholesterol check at least every five years. If you have high cholesterol, you will need to have it checked annually.

Blood sugar

Diabetes is when the level of sugar (glucose) in your blood is too high. You can have type 2 diabetes without knowing it, so screening is important. Diabetes that is not managed can damage your blood vessels and organs such as the eyes, kidneys, heart and nerves.

If you are aged over 40, your risk of type 2 diabetes should be checked every three years. If you are at risk, your doctor will order a diabetes test to check your blood sugar levels. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should have diabetes tests every year from the age of 18.

Normal blood sugar should range from 4 to 7.8 mmol/L. If your blood sugar levels are higher than this, you might have prediabetes or diabetes and you may need more tests.

Body mass index (BMI)

One common measure of whether a person weighs too much is the body mass index (BMI). BMI is calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by the square of your height in metres.

A BMI of:

  • less than 18.5 is underweight
  • 18.5 to 24.9 is a healthy weight
  • 25 to 29.9 is overweight but not obese
  • 30 and above is obese.

Note that BMI doesn’t provide an accurate measure of fat versus muscle mass.

BMI is only one health measure. It doesn’t consider other risk factors for disease, such as gender, ethnicity, lifestyle, family history and other health conditions.

For more information about how to calculate your BMI, visit the Better Health Channel website.

Waist measurement

Your waist measurement can show if you are at risk of heart disease or type 2 diabetes. Women have a higher risk if their waist measurement is more than 80 cm and a much higher risk if their waist measurement is over 88 cm.

When assessing your risk, your doctor will consider BMI and waist measurement along with blood cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar (glucose) test results. Learn more about heart health.

This con­tent has been reviewed by a group of med­ical sub­ject mat­ter experts, in accor­dance with Jean Hailes pol­i­cy.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. Guidelines for preventive activities in general practice. 9th edn. East Melbourne, Vic: RACGP, 2016.
Last updated: 
08 February 2024
Last reviewed: 
13 January 2024

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