When you are young, you may not think much about going to the doctor unless you’re sick or hurt. But your doctor is there in sickness and in health. They can provide “preventive services” that can detect disease or help prevent illness or other problems. It’s important to get these services when you are a teenager or young adult.
Many conditions that happen later in life get their start when you are younger. About 65% of all deaths in adults are caused by heart disease, cancer, and stroke. In many cases, these diseases are preventable. Many of the behaviors that cause these diseases begin at a young age. For example, teens who use tobacco are more likely to have heart disease, cancer, or stroke in adulthood.
Path to improved health
The preventive service you need might be a test, a vaccine, or advice from your doctor. Which preventive services you need depends on your age, medical history, and family history. For adolescents and young adults, there are several key areas that your doctor will probably focus on. These include:
- Social and behavioral health
- Immunizations (vaccines)
- Healthy habits
- Reproductive and sexual health
- Confidential care
- Patient and parent information
Social and behavioral health
Adolescents and young adults face many issues every day that affect their social and behavioral health. These could include violence, harassment, school bullying, or drug use. These types of issues can affect you in many ways. You may experience depression, anxiety, or an eating disorder. You may experiment with drugs or have unsafe sex. It is important for you to talk to your family doctor if you are having trouble with any of these things. You should also talk to your doctor if you have any of these warning signs:
- Agitation or restlessness
- Weight loss or gain
- A drop in grades
- Trouble concentrating
- Ongoing feelings of sadness
- Not caring about people or things
- Lack of motivation
- Feeling tired, low energy
- Lack of interest in activities
- Low self-esteem
- Trouble sleeping
Immunizations (also called vaccines) are an important part of preventive services for children, teens, and adults. They are safe and effective, and they save lives. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recommends that patients receive all necessary vaccinations from their primary care physician. These can protect against diseases such as measles, chicken pox, meningitis, flu, COVID and the human papillomavirus (HPV).
Vaccinations that you may need as a teenager or young adult include:
- The flu vaccine: This is given every year at the beginning of cold and flu season to protect you from getting the flu.
- The HPV vaccine: It helps prevent spread of the virus, which causes genital warts and several types of cancer (most commonly cervical cancer). The vaccine is given when children are 11-12 years old, but older teens and young adults can still get it.
- The Tdap vaccine: This prevents tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough). Preteens and teens should get one shot when they are 11 or 12 years old, but older teens and young adults can get the shot as well.
- The meningitis vaccine: The meningococcal conjugate vaccine is recommended for all preteens and teens at 11 to 12 years old with a booster dose at 16 years old.
- The COVID-10 vaccine: This vaccine is safe for everyone age 12 and over. It helps prevent you from getting COVID-19 and makes your symptoms less severe if you do get the virus.
Health is more than the absence of disease. It is a state of physical, mental, and social well-being. Health is the key to living a productive and satisfying life. Developing healthy habits when you are an adolescent or young adult may decrease your chance of getting sick or hurt.
When you are talking to your family doctor, you should discuss how you can stay healthy. Talk to your doctor about:
- Your physical health. Get regular exercise, eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, and maintain a healthy weight. Take care of your teeth, wear sunscreen, and don’t smoke, vape/use e-cigarettes, or use tobacco.
- Your mental and emotional health. Learn how to manage stress, and develop a good balance between school, work, and social life. Pay attention to your moods and feelings, and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
- Your behavioral health. Keep yourself safe by avoiding substance use or abuse, driving safely, avoiding violence, and practicing safe sex if you are going to be sexually active.
The habits you have now really do make a difference when you’re older.
Reproductive and sexual health
Becoming sexually active is a big decision. Contact your doctor if you are or are thinking of becoming sexually active. They can talk through your options to prevent pregnancy as well as sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
There are many ways to protect your sexual health and care for yourself. Abstinence is the only way to 100% prevent pregnancy and STIs. This means not having vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
If you decide to be sexually active with a member of the opposite sex, you should consider a form of birth control. Different types include a condom, pill, patch, shot, implant, diaphragm, or intrauterine device (IUD). These can help prevent unwanted pregnancy. Condoms are the only method that can prevent both pregnancy and STIs.
Talk to your doctor before you start having sex. They can answer any questions you have about sexual health. They also can prescribe a form of birth control.
The AAFP believes that adolescents and young adults should have access to confidential healthcare. It is important for your health and well-being. You should have the opportunity to see your doctor alone, without a parent or guardian in the room. You should be able to do this whether you’re there for an examination or for counseling. You need to have confidential one-on-one discussions about making healthy decisions.
Patient and Parent Information
It is important that patients and parents have access to information that will guide adolescents and young adults toward healthy decisions. The AAFP encourages parents and patients to talk with their family doctor about the potential risks to adolescent health and how to avoid them.
Things to consider
You may think that because you are young and healthy, you don’t need to see your doctor. But it is important to see your doctor and receive preventive services. Unhealthy decisions when you’re young can lead to consequences later on. Preventive services now will protect you and help you make healthy decisions throughout your life.
Questions to ask your doctor
- What kind of preventive services do I need at my age?
- Do I need any immunizations?
- What kind of birth control is available to me?
- What can I do now to avoid heart disease, cancer, or stroke later in life?
- How often should I see the doctor for preventive care?
This work is provided through a collaboration between AAP and AAFP and is supported by a grant from Merck Sharp & Dohme Corporation.