The Young and Invincible. Sounds like the title to a soap opera, but actually it’s the attitude that many young adults have about getting sick or injured. Young people think they are invincible and as a result neglect the most important thing that they possess: there health! Listed below are ten medical issues in young adults that I see in my Family Practice that I want to discus with you.
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has become one of the most devastating sexually transmitted diseases ever known to man. Once infected with HIV, the body’s immune system can become weakened and the infected individual will develop the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). According to statistics reported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC): an estimated 38,500 young people (age 13-24) in the United States received a diagnosis of AIDS; African American youth were the largest group of young people affected by HIV, accounting for 56% of all infections; young women, especially of African American and Hispanic decent are at increasing risk. Risk factors for infection with HIV include unprotected sex, multiple sex partners, use of IV drugs, the presence of an undiagnosed sexually transmitted disease, lack of awareness, and poverty. The key is to get tested if you don’t know your status, and if you decide to have sex, Rap It Up!
In the past 20 years, there has been a significant increase in over weight and obese individuals in the United States. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that almost two-thirds (64%) of all Americans are overweight; almost one third are obese. Childhood obesity is on the rise and we are now seeing shocking increases in diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension in this previously active and healthy population. Today, approximately 17 percent of young people are seriously overweight. One main problem that I see is the decrease in mandatory physical education classes for school aged children. Lack of exercise, poor diets high in fat and calories, and the fast food epidemic are the main reasons for this epidemic. Young people are stuck on computers and hove video games and don’t bike and or play outside as much studies have shown. So get moving! Exercise at least 20-30 minutes most days of the week and eat foods low in calories and fat.
Cervical cancer, a disease of the female reproductive system, is more common in young women. It accounts for 6% of all cancers in women and is caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV) in 90-95% of the cases. The virus is passed from person to person usually by unprotected sex and in most cases the woman has no symptoms. Risk factors for HPV include multiple sex partners, cigarette smoking, and unprotected sex. The key point is that all women who are sexually active need to have a pap smear at least once a year whether you wear condoms or not. Even if you are not sexually active, annual pap smears are still recommended by the age of 18. Cervical cancer can be detected and treated if diagnosed early by pap smears. Talk to your doctor about the vaccine currently in use that may reduce your risk of cervical cancer.
Barry Bonds is not the first person accused of using steroids and won’t be the last. His situation, however, has brought much needed attention to the topic of steroids. The desire to be competitive and to gain an edge on one’s competitor is natural, however the facts still remain: steroids are illegal and are associated with short and long term effects which can be very damaging to the body. Don’t get it twisted; they do help to build muscle mass, however, with side effects like elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure, balding in men, breast development in men, facial hair in women, and mood swings just to name a few, there is no way I would recommend to anyone using them. The National Institutes of Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported an increase in steroid use among 8th and 10th grade boys in 2000. The primary reasons for using steroids among these young men where to enhance athletic performance and physical appearance. If you want to be the best, work hard and don’t use a substance that is illegal and might permanently damage your body. Also remember, never take or rub a substance on your body if you don’t know what’s in the solution.
Cigarette smoking is the single most preventable cause of death in the United States. Twenty three percent of high school students and 8% of middle school students in this country are regular smokers. There are more deaths each year from tobacco use than by HIV, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, motor vehicle injuries, suicides, and murders all together. The active ingredient in cigarettes and smokeless tobacco is the very addictive substance called nicotine. Cigarette smoking is associated with cancers of the lung, bladder, and cervix; heart disease; low birth weight babies; sudden infant death syndrome, and chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD). Smoke free facilities are becoming the norm as society is becoming more aware of the harmful side effects of second hand smoke. If you plan on living longer, then you need to stop smoking.
Mental health is just as important as physical health and everyone should be comfortable discussing these topics with their doctor. The most common mental health issues seen in my practice are anxiety and depression. Approximately 25% of young adults experience depression by the time they are 24 years old, but very few seek help. This is alarming and depression, if left untreated, can lead to suicide. Anxiety, the most common form of mental disturbance in the U.S., affects approximately 28 million Americans each year. Both anxiety and depression are major problems for society as they can interfere with work, school and family life. They contribute to high rates of substance abuse and alcohol abuse. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with anxiety or depression, it is important to take your medicines as prescribed and see your doctor and/or therapist on a regular basis.
Suicide is the end result of severe depression that is untreated or under-treated. Suicide is common in young adults and the elderly. In general women attempt more suicide than men; men are more “successful” in suicide attempts. Signs of depression include disturbances in sleep, loss of interest in things the person normally does, guilty feelings about a situation or situations, decreased energy, decreased concentration, decreased or increased appetite, abnormal and unintentional weight loss or weight gain, decrease sex drive, and suicidal or homicidal thoughts. These symptoms have to be present for more than two weeks for the diagnosis to be made. The challenge is to recognize these signs and symptoms and to get help for the affected person before a suicide attempt (s) occurs. Suicide is the permanent answer to a temporary problem. If you are someone you love is talking about suicide, get him or her help immediately!
Despite what some might try to convince you, drugs of abuse are mind altering and can put you at risk for STD’s, accidents, and time in jail. The trends of abuse have shifted in young adults somewhat from the gateway drugs marijuana and cocaine, to designer drugs such as ecstasy and the date rape drug, GHB. There are more potent forms of marijuana, which make them more addictive, and crystal meth is slowly becoming a drug of choice for many young Americans. The results of substance abuse are quite evident: mental disorders such as depression and anxiety, incarceration, STD’s including HIV, destruction of families, and untimely deaths due to accidental overdose, suicide, or crimes as a result of the drug’s influence. While under the influence of these mind-altering substances, an individual often makes poor decisions and will participate in behaviors that he or she would normally avoid. Education and awareness about the different drugs available and how they affect the body is one of the major ways to decrease abuse.
Community acquired methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus (CA-MRSA) infections are on the rise! What the hell is that you ask? Well if you have ever had a boil that was hard to treat and it came back to visit you on several occasions requiring multiple doctor visits, drainage by a physician, and sometimes hospitalization and antibiotics through an IV, chances are you had a staph (staff) infection. MRSA was at one time primarily seen in hospital patients with wounds and in individuals with weak immune systems. As a result of antibiotic overuse by physicians to treat simple skin infections and patient noncompliance with medications (not taking them like they are suppose to), these very intelligent bacteria have become resistant to the very basic and inexpensive antibiotics that we have available in our local pharmacies. Staph infections can be very dangerous and are now being associated with pneumonias in healthy individuals. MRSA can kill! If you develop a painful to the touch, red and swollen area on your body that produces pus (drainage), you could have a staph infection. See your doctor right away so that this can be treated quickly and effectively.
Sexual Transmitted Diseases/Sexually Transmitted Infections (STDs/STIs)
Chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, HPV, syphilis, and HIV are on the rise again. One out of every 2 Americans will have an STD/STI by the there 25th birthday. The reasons are many and include lack of education and awareness, having unprotected sex, and substance abuse. If a person is infected with one STD/STI, then he or she is at risk of getting another. The concept that oral sex is safe sex or not sex at all is garbage. Herpes, HPV, and gonorrhea can be spread via oral sex. The likely hood of being infected with HIV is very low in someone receiving oral sex compared to the “giver”. However, there is still some risk. Abstinence is still the best way to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, however, this method is not always practiced. If you choose to have sex protect yourself. Know your HIV status, practice monogamy, wear condoms, and if you perform oral sex learn how to use dental dams. They come in tasty flavors and colors.
This by no means is a comprehensive list of all the potential problems young people encounter, but it’s a great start. Hopefully this will give you a good foundation and help guide your own research regarding the medical issues that I commonly see in my practice.