Ask The Doctor: How to Take Control of Your Health in Your 20s

Northwestern Medicine
For Students July 15, 2018

You’re too old to go back to your pediatrician, now what? Shawn Brickner, M.D., internist at Northwestern Medicine offers some advice to stay proactive about your health.

1. Make sure to see a doctor on a regular basis. After you stop seeing your pediatrician, it’s important to find a regular physician to visit once a year. Most college students only go to the doctor when they’re feeling sick or to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Dr. Brickner recommends that young people see doctors regularly for preventative medicine. Specifically, women should make sure to get a pap smear every three years after turning 21 to screen for cervical cancer. Men, especially those ages 18 to 35, should make sure to get screened regularly for testicular cancer, since they are at the highest risk.  

2. Decisions you make now, can help you later, so don’t pick up that cigarette. Chances are, if you refrain from starting to smoke young, will never pick up the bad habit. The same goes for marijuana. Most people don’t realize that smoking marijuana can cause just as many health problems as regular cigarettes, specifically cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In terms of carcinogens, or substances that can cause cancer, one joint is equivalent to 10 regular cigarettes. 

3. Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night, seriously. If you’re thinking about staying up all night cramming for that big exam, think again. Sleep is restorative, so you’re actually better off getting a full night’s sleep. In addition, sleep can help with weight loss and lowering blood pressure. If you’re having trouble falling asleep, Dr. Brickner recommends 30 minutes of screen-free time before bed.

4. Wear sunscreen. Every day. Even when it’s cloudy, the sun’s rays can be damaging to your skin. Not only will it prevent you from getting burned, wearing sunscreen now can help prevent wrinkles and skin cancer when you’re older. But, don’t waste your money on anything higher than SPF 30.  According to Dr. Brickner, SPF 50 protects your skin less than one percent more than SPF 30, even though the price difference is generally substantial. 

5. Know your pain meds. You may think acetaminophen (name brand, Tylenol) and ibuprofen (name brands, Advil and Motrin) are the same, but there are a few key differences. Both treat fevers and pain, but ibuprofen is better for inflammatory pain, like from sports injuries. The most important difference is how your body processes them. Ibuprofen is metabolized through your kidneys while acetaminophen is metabolized through your liver. So if you’re planning on drinking alcohol, stick to ibuprofen to limit potential liver damage. 

6. Stay up to date on your vaccines. In college, so many people live in such close quarters, it’s important to protect yourself from easily transmittable diseases. Get a flu shot every year, double check that your tetanus shot is current (you only need to get one every 10 years!) and if you are or plan to be sexually active, get your HPV vaccines. Today’s technology is so advanced that the current HPV vaccine not only protects against cervical cancer, but it also helps protect against oral cancers as well, which means men need it just as much as women. If you’re going abroad, make sure to check if you need any additional vaccines.

7. Just because you read it on the internet, doesn’t mean it’s true. We’re all guilty of searching our symptoms online or going to some medical website, but Dr. Brickner urges you to seek advice from a licensed physician. 

To make an appointment with Dr. Brickner or for more information about Northwestern Medicine Primary and Specialty Care, call 312.926.6000.


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