Five Health Risks College Students Face

More than 17 million students are headed to college this fall, and they all face some potentially serious health risks.

ABC News medical contributor Dr. Marie Savard has advice for parents on five health hazards and how to help your teen avoid problems.

Know Your Medical History

Your children should know their health histories. Many kids have chronic illnesses or complex medical histories that could lead to serious problems if they don't know their own health histories. Studies have shown this.

So, you need to teach them to be proactive consumers of health care, and create a health information card like an emergency health snapshot that could save their lives. It should include: a list of their medical conditions, whether they have asthma, attention deficit disorder, or a prior cancer treatment with radiation; a list of medications, with doses and directions for taking them spelled out, and make sure they have enough refills; also include your family health information; dates of most recent immunizations; and their allergies, to medications and everything else; and finally make sure your emergency contact information is on the card, so someone can call your cell phone if your child has a problem.

A picture of a college campus.Play

Once that's done, make sure your child has his or her health insurance card. You'd be surprised how many kids forget to keep it with them and can't get treatment when they need it.

Get Emergency College Contacts

It is parents' greatest fear for a child to get sick at school because they won't be there. But parents can get emergency contact information for the college and talk with their child about what to do if an emergency comes up.

The parent should make sure they know who their child's resident adviser is, how to contact the campus police and the number of the local emergency room.


Also, make sure that you find out the school's parental notification policy. Many schools won't notify parents that something is wrong, unless the student gives them permission. If that's the case, tell your child to list you and, at the very least, find out under what dire circumstances the school will contact a parent.

They also should make sure their child has a health buddy. You can't be there, but a health buddy can be your eyes and ears on campus. Encourage your child to identify someone they trust, a roommate or a friend, who can go with them to the hospital or doctor in case of emergency. That health buddy can contact you and be your communication tool when your child is sick.

Talk About Alcohol Dangers

Kids often don't want to hear about the dangers of drinking, but you can -- and should -- talk to them and emphasize your concerns about alcohol. An article in USA Today just pointed out that extreme drinking is a rite of passage for more than 80 percent of college students on their 21st birthday. So, talking about the dangers is very important.

Also, make sure your child understands the risks of using anti-inflammatory drugs like acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Acetaminophen doesn't mix with alcohol.

The liver is very sensitive, and students often wind up in the hospital after using the two together. And ibuprofen can sometimes cause stomach bleeding, especially after alcohol use.

Watch for Stress-Related Problems

The college lifestyle can lead to stress, depression, sleep issues and eating problems. You need to be alert that your child is more vulnerable to all those problems, and keep an eye out for the signs and symptoms of stress issues.

If you notice problems reach out to your child's friends and circle of contacts.

Discuss Sexual Issues

You need to talk to our children about sex. It's a fear for all parents, and you need to have a frank discussion about your values and about sex in general. Go over your concerns about all issues related to sex, everything from birth control to infections.