Health conditions that exempt you from serving in the army, after general's warning 'Brits could be called up to fight'

26 January 2024, 16:03

Several health conditions could rule Brits out from serving in the army
Several health conditions could rule Brits out from serving in the army. Picture: Getty

By Kit Heren

The head of the British army warned this week that British people could have to serve in the army if war starts with Russia - but many could be deemed medically unfit to fight.

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General Sir Patrick Sanders said that he wanted British men and women to be prepared to fight if Nato goes to war with Russia

Sir Patrick Sanders warned the government in a speech this week of the need to "mobilise" the public in a war.

But not everyone would be right for the army, although others could be drafted in to help out in other ways.

Serious medical conditions like leukaemia, deafness and missing limbs might be expected to prevent people from serving in the army.

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But milder conditions might also rule you out.

The army lists a series of medical exemptions that can prevent people from joining up in peacetime, telling would-be soldiers that even health problems "that usually don't affect your everyday life can mean that you're not able to join".

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Below we list a few medical problems that could prevent you being called up to the army, with a full list below.


Epilepsy is a brain condition that causes seizures.

Some 600,000 people in the UK have epilepsy, or nearly one in 60.

It is usually a lifelong condition, but most people are able to live with it using medication.

Symptoms include fits, losing awareness, and collapsing.

Civilians may have to be called up
Civilians may have to be called up. Picture: Getty

High blood pressure

A staggering 14.4 million people in the UK are thought to have high blood pressure, which is known medically as hypertension.

Some four million are said to be living with the condition undiagnosed.

High blood pressure is usually considered to be 140/90, rising to 150/90 or over people older than 80.

Ideal blood pressure is 90/60 and 120/80, or below 150/90 if you're aged over 80.

. Picture: Getty

Sickle cell disease

Sickle cell disease is a serious blood condition. People with the disease produce unusual red blood cells that can block blood vessels and cause serious pain

The disease most commonly affects people with African or Caribbean heritage.

Painful episodes - known as crises - can last several days or even weeks.

It is a serious and lifelong condition, but many of its symptoms can be treated.

. Picture: Getty

Chronic back pain

Chronic back pain can be caused by a variety of conditions, including milder issues such as muscle strains, to problems like sciatica or a slipped disc, and even more serious conditions like cancer or an infection.

Nearly three million people in the UK are thought to suffer from some kind of chronic back pain.

Back pain can be treatable with rest and stretching, but if it points to a more serious underlying health problem, it could rule people out form serving in the military.

. Picture: Getty


Migraines feel like a very bad headache, with an intense pain on one side.

According to the NHS, other symptoms that sometimes arise just before a migraine include:

  • feeling very tired and yawning a lot
  • craving certain foods or feeling thirsty
  • changes in mood
  • a stiff neck
  • urinating more

Other symptoms include an 'aura' that brings sight problems such as seeing zigzag lines or flashing lights.

Migraines usually last between two hours and three days. People who get migraines may suffer from them several times a week, or others have them more rarely.

Below is the army's list of medical conditions that may prevent people from serving in the army. But army bosses say it is not "exhaustive", adding: "You can still apply to join the army even if your medical history includes one or more of these conditions.

"Your application will be assessed on its own merits against medical standards for entry."

. Picture: Getty

Full list of medical conditions that could exempt you from conscription

Back problems

  • History of spinal surgery
  • Structural abnormalities of the spine and spinal cord
  • History of chronic or recurrent back pain

Blood diseases

  • Sickle Cell disease
  • Congenital spherocytosis
  • Thalassemia
  • Hepatitis B or C
  • Leukaemia or malignant lymphoma
  • Disorders resulting in abnormal coagulation

Bone or joint problems

  • Knee injuries and chronic knee pain
  • History of bone fractures
  • Shoulder problems resulting in functional limitations or restrictions of movement
  • Loss of a limb
  • Club foot (including past surgery)
  • Chronic joint diseases such as ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or gout
  • Hypermobility syndrome

Cardiovascular problems

  • Diagnosis of heart disease
  • Bicuspid aortic valve
  • Symptomatic or medication-suppressed abnormal heart rhythms
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Hypertension

Dental Health

  • Poor dental hygiene, including needing the removal of teeth or ongoing treatment

Ear problems

  • Current perforation of ear drum
  • Chronic ear diseases like cholesteatoma
  • Presence of eardrum 'grommets'
  • Deafness or hearing problems

Eye problems

  • Chronic eye conditions such as glaucoma, keratoconus and retinitis pigmentosa
  • Damage to the eyelids affecting vision
  • Chronic conjunctivitis
  • Reduction of corrected vision in one eye below army entry standards
  • Diplopia

Gastrointestinal problems

  • Chronic abdominal diseases like Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis
  • Significant history of dyspepsia
  • Loss of spleen (splenectomy)
  • Active Haemorrhoids
  • Kidney and Urologic problems

Congenital kidney diseases/anomalies

  • History of kidney problems such as malfunction of a kidney or kidney stones
  • Recurrent renal colic
  • History of urinary incontinence
  • History of genital infections

Neurological disorders

  • Epilepsy
  • History of head injury with neurological sequalae
  • Migraines
  • Multiple sclerosis

Psychiatric problems

  • Schizophrenia
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Alcohol or drug dependence
  • Personality Disorders
  • Eating Disorders
  • Anxiety and Depression
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • History of deliberate self-harm or suicide attempts

Respiratory problems

  • Asthma (depending on severity and need for treatment)
  • Chronic lung disease such as emphysema, bronchiectasis or cystic fibrosis
  • Tuberculosis

Skin problems

  • If you suffer from skin conditions such as severe widespread psoriasis or dermatitis. However, if it's mild or moderate dermatitis it may be considered

Other conditions

  • Being an organ transplant recipient
  • Food allergy requiring you to avoid some foods in your diet due to allergy or intolerance (not because you don't like it)
  • Raynaud's phenomenon
  • Diabetes
  • Some medical conditions requiring long-term medication or replacement therapy
  • Moderate or severe Covid infection