How general health check ups can do more harm than good
General health checks do not reduce the number of deaths from cardiovascular disease or cancer, a new study has found.
They do, however, increase the number of new diagnoses, the researchers said.
Health checks were defined as screening for more than one disease or risk factor in more than one organ system offered to a general population unselected for disease or risk factors.
Authors from the Nordic Cochrane Centre in Denmark carried out a review of a total of 14 trials that looked at systematic health checks. The studies had between 1 and 22 years of follow-up.
Nine of the 14 trials had data on mortality and included 182,880 participants, 11,940 of whom died during the study period. 76,403 were invited to health checks and the remainder were not.
All participants were over 18 years old and the study excluded trials specifically targeting older people or trials that only enrolled people aged 65 or over.
Despite some variation regarding the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer, no evidence was found for a reduction of either total mortality, cardiovascular mortality, or cancer mortality.
Unsurprisingly, the researchers found that health checks did more harm than good as it led to more diagnoses and more medical treatment for hypertension.
The lack of beneficial effects suggests over-diagnosis and overtreatment, the researchers said.
In conclusion, the results do not support the use of general health checks aimed at the general population.
The researchers say that further research should “be directed at the individual components of health checks e.g. screening for cardiovascular risk factors, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, or kidney disease”.