Seeing the GP: Advice and tips for young people

Seeing the GP about minor short-term problems

Here, people talk about:

•    when to see the GP about minor health issues
•    young people’s experiences of minor short-term problems 

When to see the GP about minor health issues
Minor health problems can often be dealt with by using over-the-counter treatments from the chemist. Other issues that aren’t serious can often be dealt with by seeing a practice nurse at the GP surgery. When a problem isn’t serious but doesn’t seem to be going away and is worrying, then it’s a good idea to see the GP.
People often see their GP about minor short-term problems that have lasted longer than they expected or keep coming back. The range of minor concerns is huge – from persistent coughs to sports injuries, aches and pains, allergies, rashes and infections. Many minor health issues are ‘self-limiting’. This means that they’ll get better by themselves and have no long-term harmful effect on a person’s health. Young people who are still learning about their health might not always know whether a condition is self-limiting or whether they need to see a doctor. 

Many infections, like colds and flu, and many ear and chest infections, are caused by viruses, which means that antibiotics won’t work. They only work against bacterial infections. Some people, like Aphra and Vinay, disliked taking medication too often, having it only if they really needed it. Aphra felt that some of her friends seemed to be given ‘antibiotics for almost everything’ and Jon was aware that taking them unnecessarily can cause superbugs. Paula, who’d had them for acne, recognised that the bacteria causing her acne had become resistant to the antibiotics she’d been taking (see below). 

Young people’s experiences of minor short-term problems
Some of the young people we talked to rarely saw the GP – they were usually healthy and only went to the doctors’ on the odd occasion when something seemed wrong. Hannah hardly ever saw the GP apart from going to get the contraceptive pill.
Lara and Paula, like a few other people who were still at school, recalled seeing the GP when they were younger for annual check-ups and injections. Other than that, it was rare for them to go to the doctors’. Lara once went because she kept getting painful mouth ulcers. Paula had been on different occasions over the years for problems with acne, her periods, and ear wax; and Auberon had been because of ear infections and persistent coughs.
Skin problems are one of the most common reasons for young people to see a GP. Acne is a short-term problem for many people but some young people have it for several years. It can take a long time to treat and have a big impact on them. Ish first saw the GP about acne when he was around 14. He had problems with it for over five years and also saw a hospital skin specialist (a dermatologist).
Several people had seen the GP for ongoing athlete’s foot, fungal foot infections, and ingrown toenails.

Amy saw the GP for a few months as a child and had several tests. When she was playing with a friend, her friend found a needle and syringe under a car. They decided to play ‘doctors and nurses’ and the friend injected Amy in the arm. Being only 5 or 6, neither had any idea how dangerous this could be. After going to A &E (Accident and Emergency), Amy had tests that were done by the GP. More recently she has seen the GP about a long-term health problem.
Young people who were still at school often spoke to a parent when they thought they were unwell. Emma’s dad was a GP so she usually spoke to him first, and John spoke to a relative who was a doctor. People who had moved away from home for university or work sometimes spoke to friends first, who suggested they should see the GP. People were less likely to speak to friends if they felt the problem was very personal or embarrassing.
When Aphra was at university she got what she thought was a chest infection for three months every winter. She saw a few different GPs and was referred for tests. The infection was never diagnosed but she thinks it could have been an allergy:
Some people, like Isaac, saw their GP for hay fever. At a younger age, he’d also seen the doctor for eczema. Most recently he went because of a mole on his arm.
Vinay had pain around his lower back for a few weeks. After speaking to his parents, he decided to see a doctor. He had several appointments and tests and was diagnosed a few months later:
Louis recalled seeing the GP about a stomach bug when he was younger, and Sarah went because of painful stomach cramps and diarrhoea that she had for about a week and wasn’t getting any better. She had campylobacter, which is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK. The bacteria are usually found on raw or undercooked meat (especially poultry such as chicken), unpasteurised milk and untreated water. Sarah felt that the doctors didn’t take her symptoms seriously until tests showed that it was campylobacter. After that, the GP was ‘really good’.
Sports injuries were another reason young people went to see the GP. Sometimes they were referred to other specialists, such as a physiotherapist. Kyle saw the doctor when he tore his hip flexor muscle during hurdles training. The hip flexor muscle is located deep in the front of the hip and connects the leg, pelvis and abdomen (stomach). A torn hip flexor and groin strain are the same thing but Kyle felt that this wasn’t explained to him.


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