The 9 Most Serious Health Problems Overlooked By Millennials, According To Experts
Being young may sometimes feel like being invincible. But being a young adult in the age of constant information also can mean feeling like their are endless possibilities of different ways you might get sick — simply because you have access to knowledge of health issues in ways generations before may not have. Still, even with the hyper-focus on certain illnesses, there are some health issues for millennials that get overlooked.
Millennials may be more in tune with their diagnostic instincts than other generations, having been the first group of young people who came of age with the internet. "I find that millennials, more than other demographic groups, tend to look for explanations for even the small flaws that bodies bestow upon us," Caesar Djavaherian, MD, co-founder and chief medical director at Carbon Health, tells Bustle. Nevertheless, while millennials may be particularly aware of the dangers of things like the flu, or smoking, they may be less aware of other long-term health risks associated with their demographic or lifestyles.
Luckily, access to information about health can be quite a positive thing. "Women are more empowered than ever by knowledge through access to information and to their providers," doctor of osteopathic medicine Yuliya Malayev, MPH, DMC, tells Bustle. "Some have official practice websites, social media platforms, or user-friendly patient portals for quick and secure email messaging. After all, the millennials are all about access." So if you are concerned that you have or are at risk for a health condition, finding answers is possible.
Here are eight of the most serious health problems overlooked by millennials, according to experts.
Stress is a serious health issue, and for millennials, understanding that chronic stress can lead to later-in-life problems ranging from heart disease, to depression, and cognitive impairment may help stress management become a more urgent goal.
“I think that stress-related issues are probably the most overlooked by millennials because it’s so difficult to see how their current habits are setting them up for long-term wear and tear," Everyday Health’s Wellness Advisory Board member, Dr. Heidi Hanna, tells Bustle. "[...] I think it may be problematic when we start to identify with these labels making them part of our identity, where we just brush them under the rug as being common." Research shows that chronic stress is a national epidemic, so it's important to find ways to feel some relief.
"The fastest spreading STD is syphilis and its relative obscurity and the various ways that it presents, makes this one of the STDs, along with HIV, hard to recognize early in the disease process," Dr. Djavaherian says. However, about 100 thousand people got syphilis last year in the United States, compared to about 40 thousand new cases of HIV and 550 thousand cases of gonorrhea reported in 2017. So it's not that uncommon at all. Plus, while it starts as a rash, it can cause major complications including cognitive changes down the line. So if you believe you have some of the symptoms of syphilis, there's no shame in getting tested.
While sleep apnea often occurs with age, or within the male population, for young people, sleep apnea is still not a disease that should be overlooked. Other risk factors of sleep apnea include things like alcohol consumption, nasal congestion, and family history. And diagnosing this problem when you live alone can be difficult.
"If you sleep by yourself, the signs and symptoms are hard to identify since people with sleep apnea have periods during sleep when they stop breathing," Dr. Djavaherian says, but these waking periods are so short they can be hard to pinpoint. "[...] A telltale sign is that during the awake hours, patients will feel fatigued, tired, [and] like they have no energy." Treating sleep apnea doesn't just mean finally achieving a good night's sleep, either. Long-term sleep apnea can cause hypertension, heart failure, stroke, and diabetes. It's important to talk to your doctor if you believe you may be experiencing this condition.
The long-term health hazards of sitting have been pretty much catastrophized — called "the new smoking" or even "the new cancer" (even though both of those things still exist). Still, even though all-out panic may not be necessary, back pain in young adults shouldn't be overlooked.
"I see a lot of young patients who have newly graduated college and are new to the workforce," Dr. Charla Fischer, associate professor of orthopedic surgery at the NYU School of Medicine, tells Bustle. "They are commuting to work, sitting in an office all day, and have less time to exercise." Fixing back pain caused by this lifestyle creates an opportunity to make small changes with lifelong benefits, Dr. Fischer says. Building good ergonomic habits like limiting the weight of your work bag, fixing your posture at your desk, and exercising (even just a walk at lunch), can prevent a lifetime of back ache.
Heart disease can happen to anyone — not just older people or those with clear family history. One particularly important condition to be aware of is hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. "Hypertension is known as the silent killer because people often don’t feel like they are sick and it is well known to start early in life even in those without a family history of hypertension," Dr. Djavaherian says. Having your blood pressure checked annually can help you mitigate the risks.
"Prevention of cardiovascular disease (including not smoking) will help millennials to age [...] in good health, so that they can enjoy life well into their golden years," Dr. Fischer says. Paying attention to heart health, even before you begin to age, is important.
Sleep conditions are not the only risk associated with not getting a good night's rest. Simply not getting enough sleep can become a chronic health risk in the long-run.
"A consistently good night’s sleep builds the physical, mental, and emotional resilience to deal with the stresses of our modern world," holistic health advocate Dr. Ron Ehrlich, tells Bustle. "It is estimated at least a third of the population get insufficient sleep." To mitigate the risks of sleep deprivation, getting enough sleep and getting high quality sleep is important.
7Irritable Bowel Disease And Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome is unfairly stigmatized by millennials, especially since, according to the Mayo Clinic, risk factors for the condition include being young, female, and having mental health problems.
"Conditions of the digestive tract are often overlooked by youth," naturopathic doctor Olivia Rose tells Bustle. "[...] Millennials may not think much of these symptoms and may not even think to mention them at routine appointments therefore as a health care professional, it’s important to take a thorough intake." Studies show that gastrointestinal distress is hard for patients to talk about with doctors, therefore it is important for both patient self-advocacy and physician awareness of these conditions.
8Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
While carpal tunnel syndrome, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is still commonly associated with people doing assembly-line work, it is predominantly found in women and shouldn't be singly associated with any one profession.
"Millennials were the first generation to grow up sitting a computer and continue to do so as young adults," Columbia University Medical Center cardiologists Christopher Kelly, MD, and Marc Eisenberg, MD, FACC, co-authors of Am I Dying?!, tell Bustle. "Unfortunately, resting your wrists on the edge of a desk — or even flexing them upward to hold a smartphone, can contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome (compression and irritation of a nerve that passes through the wrist to the hand)." Fortunately, knowing the risks, symptoms, and potential treatment options of carpal tunnel can keep you from experiencing the greatest risks of this painful condition.
You don't need to have an alcohol addiction to be overusing alcohol. Unfortunately, millennials seem to overlook the risks that even social drinking can have.
"Our society generally downplays the risks of alcohol consumption in popular media, and millennials [can] consequently underestimate their own risk," Dr. Kelly and Dr. Eisenberg say. "[...] Although it has long been felt that moderate drinking may actually have some health benefits, newer research suggests that may not necessarily be the case, even if the risks of one or two drinks per day remain low overall. Therefore, it’s important to play it safe and not to overdo it." For women, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention defines moderate drinking as having up to seven drinks per week, with no more than three on any one day. Keeping this general rule of thumb can help you stay safe from risks long-term alcohol use and alcoholism.
Overlooking the risks of serious health problems can mean putting yourself at greater risk in the long-run. Still, it's important not to panic about potential diagnoses, but rather see a professional if your health ever changes, or if you have certain symptoms that stick around for long periods of time. And understanding the health problems facing young people, and the stigmas associated with different conditions, is important even if you yourself are not at risk.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is seeking help for substance use, call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357).