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Student Blogs: Freshers' First Aid — Looking after your physical health at university

Exams are over, and you can finally put away those revision notes and say a (not so) fond farewell to the late night cramming sessions. If you’re hoping to go to university this September, or are returning for another year, you may already be starting to plan what you need to take with you:

  • New duvet set ✔

  • Pots and pans ✔

  • Too many sets of fairy lights for decoration ✔

...but what can you do to make sure you are looking after yourself? While the above items are important, it is easy to forget that there are also some practical medical precautions you could be taking this summer to make sure you’re fighting fit come September.

Make sure you get the ‘meningitis vaccine’

Meningitis is a term usually associated with babies, but young adults are actually at a high risk of contracting certain types of the illness. Bacterial meningitis is spread through coughing, sneezing and kissing. This makes university students — who are constantly in contact with new people and in close proximity to one another — extremely vulnerable. The W strain of this illness is one of the most serious forms. It can, in some cases, be fatal and those who survive may be left with life-changing disabilities.

The MenACWY vaccine is available to anyone under the age of 25 and protects you against the W, A, C and Y strains of the disease. The vaccine was introduced as a routine school vaccination in 2015, meaning that some year groups missed out. There is a real push for anyone born between September 1998 and 31 August 1999 (current school leavers), and anyone else who hasn’t already done so, to receive the vaccination.

All you need to do is arrange an appointment for the vaccine with your GP. If you are uncertain whether you are eligible, the Meningitis Research Foundation have an ‘eligibility check’ which you can access online here.

For more information, visit this link.It is such an easy thing to get sorted, and is really worth it in the long term. Although, this vaccine doesn’t cover all forms of meningitis; you still need to be vigilant in recognising potential symptoms such as pale skin, confusion, headaches and drowsiness that may be indicators of other forms of the disease.

How to deal with Freshers' Flu

Ah, the notorious Freshers' Flu. Many-a-student has entered their first week of university determined not to fall victim to this illness, but they inevitably do. The culmination of alcohol, stress, lack of sleep, eating food with very little nutritional value and the aforementioned close contact with lots of new people all take their toll, especially during Freshers' Week (hence the name). Symptoms include feeling generally very rubbish, a lack of energy, tiredness, coughing, sneezing and headaches.

But don’t despair! This won’t last forever. While the symptoms will last for a week or so, you’ll soon feel better once you start getting into the swing of things at uni (and maybe eat something more closely resembling a vegetable). In the meantime: drink lots of water; get out for some fresh air; cut back on the alcohol where possible; and ensure you are getting some proper sleep. It’s important to have fun during this time, but you will also likely have some introductory lectures to attend — these will be a lot more bearable hangover-free and with at least 7 hours of sleep under your belt.

You may find it useful to make a ‘medical pack’ to take to uni with you. Fill it with plasters, antiseptic cream, paracetamol (for those almighty hangovers) and anything else that your Mum says you’ll probably need.

Sexual health issues

Firstly, there is absolutely no pressure to live up to any stereotype that is associated with students and sexual relationships. This is a decision for you to make as and when you want to. Either way, it is important for you to know the facts and — if you do decide to engage in any sexual activity — to protect yourself.

Make sure you find a type of contraception that works for you. Most universities actually offer free condoms in the Students' Union, but there are always other measures available. Have a chat with your doctor before leaving home (or when you register with a new GP at uni) to discuss what might be your best option.

Do remember though, not all contraceptives protect you from STI’s. If you think that you may have contracted an STI, don’t panic. Most are treatable with a course of antibiotics. If undetected, however, they may cause health complications in the future. Look online to see what sexual health clinics are available either at, or near your university. Surgeries are sometimes run by appointment or as a drop-in clinic, so don’t be afraid to seek help or advice if you need it.

Whatever the problem, there will always be someone to help you. Make sure you are proactive and seek professional advice regarding the above (or any other) health issues. Your SU website is always a great place to start.

Ellie has just finished her second year at Cardiff University, studying English Language. She also writes a blog ‘Forget the World’ about lifestyle and university experiences.

Seeking tips on looking after your mental health at university? See ProtectED's recent guest post for

Note: 'Student Blog' pieces highlight the student perspective on issues relating to ProtectED. Consequently, this article reflects the views of the author and not ProtectED.

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