As we say goodbye to summer and await the colours of autumn, students across the country are starting to pack up their belongings and head off for a new chapter of their lives - university. But what will the first couple of weeks and months bring? All-night partying, extensive social events, learning new things and lie-ins till noon? More like rotten colds, hangovers from hell, stressful deadlines and a good chance of a sexually transmitted infection.
The traditional medical woes of a student are usually non-complicated, short-lived illnesses that require no more than a few days in bed or a quick trip to the doctors. Given the close proximity of thousands of students and the sustained battering your immune system endures during the early days at university, it's inevitable that a good chunk of you will suffer from something unwanted.
Within the first few weeks, there's a high chance you could fall victim to the infamous Freshers Flu - now a recognised phenomenon and usually the consequence of excessive alcohol consumption, late nights, a poor diet and exposure to the countless germs of others. 90% of students will get Fresher's Flu within their first few weeks of university, making even the most health conscious vulnerable.
And to accompany Freshers Flu is its trusted friend, the hangover. As social events get into full swing and the drinking culture of university takes hold, hangovers and drink-related injuries inevitably become more frequent. Research has shown that around half of students drink more than the government's recommended daily guidelines (three to four units a day for men and two to three for women). And the after affects of drinking go beyond a pounding headache and upset stomach. According to the Student Drinking Survey 2011, 53% of students have missed a lecture because they drank too much the night before and 33% sustained an injury during a night out.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are also common as social lives thrive, cheap alcohol flows and new relationships are made. Common STIs include chlamydia, gonorrhoea, genital warts and pubic lice - not a nice addition to anyone's first term at university. And data shows that the number of people diagnosed with an STI in the UK is rising, primarily associated with gonorrhoea, syphilis and genital herpes. Worryingly, up to one in 10 sexually active young people are thought to have chlamydia - an infection that often has no symptoms and therefore easy to pass on.
Although they can have unpleasant symptoms, STIs are usually easily treated and with the help of antibiotics, can be cleared up within a couple of weeks. More enduring medical woes, such as sporting injuries, can often bring a lot more misery and put a student out of action for weeks, or even months. As university leagues get underway and social sporting events are eagerly attended, it's not uncommon to see a student hobbling around campus on crutches or attempting to type with one finger tip poking out from a cast.
And it's not just physical illnesses and injuries that can occur during student years. Mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety and stress, are well known to be on the rise. With the stress of deadlines, exams, financial pressures and being away from home, university can often be mentally challenging. A recent survey conducted by Bupa revealed that over 50 percent of students experienced stress in the last year, compared to around 30 per cent of the overall population. One in five students said they have experienced depression in the last year and more than three out of four students worry about finances. But this isn't a new revelation. According to statistics gathered by the Working Group for the Promotion of Mental Well-Being in Higher Education (MWBHE) and reported by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, (2011) 80 percent of universities in the UK have seen a significant rise in students approaching university services with mental health problems over the past five years.
University is a tough time, financially and mentally, but it should also be a fantastic time. So if you're beginning university this autumn, make sure you know where to seek support or healthcare advice if you need it. Many universities have medical centres on campus and counselling services available.
So, for all those about to embark on a new era, enjoy. The best years of your life really are about to happen. Don't forget what vegetables look like, try to get a few hours sleep a night and, as an ophthalmologist, I feel obliged to say it; don't skip the opticians...you've got a lot of reading ahead.
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