Find out what health concerns often plague college students, and how you can keep yourself healthy during this exciting time.
My college years were truly some of the best times of my life. It’s great fun, making so many new contacts and friendships, finally gaining some independence, living on your own, and having no responsibilities other than studying for those midterms and final exams. It can be somewhat of a shock to the system initially, not having any parental supervision for the first time, no one telling you what to do and what not to do. You are your own boss…finally!
That’s why at first, some of us can get a little carried away. And as a physician, there are a few health concerns that come to mind when I see my college-aged patients. These mainly involve sex, drugs, alcohol, and STI’s. So today, I’ll review my top 6 quick and dirty tips to keep college students super healthy while they enjoy their youthful and newly independent years.
Even though our college years can be quite exciting and full of temptation, it’s important to keep your mind and body healthy and refrain from falling into certain traps.
Here are my top 6 Quick and Dirty Tips to keep you college-healthy:
Tip #1: Update Your Vaccinations
Make sure to visit your doctor prior to starting college to update your vaccines. Some common vaccines that you may require are: the flu shot, the meningitis shot, and the tetanus/whooping cough comb shot. You also have the option of vaccinating yourself for Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) if you are below age 26. Bring your prior immunization card or records with you to the visit.
Tip #2: Update Your Physical
Many of my college-age patients admit that they haven’t had a physical since their pre-teen years, as this is typically when the last required pediatric vaccine was given. I recommend that you make an appointment to update your health history and obtain a physical exam prior to your departure for college. Your doctor can also order a routine blood test to get some baseline labs to commence the beginning of your adulthood, just to make sure you are as healthy as can be. If you are a woman age 21 or higher, make sure you’ve also had your pap exam, a screening test for cervical cancer.
Tip #3: Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI)
The college years are often an era of sexual revolution for some of my patients. Unfortunately, this sometimes comes with the price of rampant STI’s. The most common of these is chlamydia, which is thankfully curable with antibiotics, but is often asymptomatic. That means that you can be a carrier and pass it around without even knowing it. And this can go for other STI’s as well, including gonorrhea, genital herpes, human papilloma virus (HPV), syphilis, and HIV. Some of these infections have no cure. So please use a condom every single time, because other than abstinence (the only sure way of prevent STI transmission), condoms are the only protection you have.
Tip #4: Contraception
With this collegiate sexual revolution, there is another responsibility besides the risk of STI’s. If you are going to have sex, you must be ready for pregnancy. Because again, other than abstinence, there’s always a risk of pregnancy no matter what method you choose. Thankfully, there are many options nowadays, and I have reviewed many of them in my previous episodes – check out everything you wanted to know about IUD’s, hormonal contraceptives, and a review of some of the newer, more advanced methods of birth control.
Tip #5: Substance Abuse
With all the college dorm and fraternity/sorority parties, it’s easy to fall into temptation and peer pressure to dabble in illicit drugs or binge drinking. High school may initiate the start of this experimentation for some, but college even brings greater opportunities. Doctors care deeply about this issue, not because we want to lecture you, but because we want to keep your body and mind healthy. Substance abuse doesn’t just make us less inhibited, so that we may make regretful decisions that we may not otherwise make when sober, but it can also become a habit that initiates a life-long battle with addiction. Nip it in the bud now before it’s too late. It’s just not worth it. And whatever you do, please don’t get in a car and drive after a night of partying.
Tip #6: Viral Syndromes
Tight, enclosed spaces occupied by numerous people, such as prisons, nursing homes, and yes, you guessed it…dormitories (and classrooms), often spread viruses like wildfire. The only time I see more snot and goo is with young, school-aged kids. It’s challenging to prevent viral outbreaks completely, but you can minimize your risk of catching something by washing your hands frequently, carrying and using antibacterial gel, and getting your annual flu shot at the student health center or your doctor’s office. Viral syndromes typically improve greatly after 7 days, so if you are still suffering after that, please make an appointment with your doctor.