Critical illness statistics tell us that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 5 men will be affected by a serious illness before retirement.

This means it can make real sense to protect yourself financially, particularly if you have ongoing commitments such as a mortgage or dependants.

Depending on the illness, you could face long periods off work or find yourself unable to care for your children as you normally would - particularly damaging if you're self employed. So, financial protection could be vital:

Critical illness insurance cover

Critical illness policies payout to help you and your family manage household finances during your illness.

Therefore it's important that you understand how they work and compare critical illness cover UK wide to get the best policy.

Critical illness cover only pays a fixed lump sum if you are diagnosed with one of the illnesses listed on the policy documents. They generally cover a comprehensive list of illnesses that includes heart attack, liver and kidney disease as well as many others.

Life and critical illness cover gives you a combination of life insurance and critical illness protection in one policy. If you're looking at this as an option you should treat the two parts of the policy as separate cover and ensure you get appropriate protection with each.

How to find cheap critical illness cover policies

The first thing to do is look at what you and your family would need from a lump sum critical illness payment. Consider your personal debts and any significant money owed, plus day to day living expenses.

For straightforward mortgage critical illness cover you should look for a cover level that will pay off your remaining balance in the event you need to claim. For more comprehensive critical illness cover, match the payout to both your long term and day to day financial commitments.

Once you've decided what you need from a plan financially, consider your current health and circumstances. If you have existing conditions you'll need to declare them on your policy, and you won't then be covered if they reappear.

You should also take into account any illness exclusions, per policy. For example, certain types of cancer or specific conditions may not be covered, and each provider will have its own list of excluded illnesses.

In some cases you may be able to add particular conditions in to your policy; with other insurers the cover will be non-negotiable. For conditions such as heart attack, your cover may only payout if it's severe enough according to your policy document.

Bear in mind that the level of cover you choose will have a direct impact on price. For example, illness insurance for doctors and nurses may charge higher premiums to include cover for HIV, due to the risks associated with their profession.

Finally, note that different policies may payout upon diagnosis, once you've lived with the condition for a certain period, or only once you exhibit permanent and/or irreversible symptoms. Make sure you're happy with all terms and conditions before you apply.

Once you've decided what type of policy and what cover level you want, use our critical illness cover comparison table to find appropriate policies with the scope to cover a suitable range of illnesses.

Then, you can approach each provider in turn and compare rates to combine the cheapest and best critical illness cover quote online.

More information on Critical Illness Cover