Health Issues

Nutrition

You, as an international student in the U.S. may find the food available very different from that in your homeland. You may have trouble finding your favorite foods. In this case you could go to a specialty food store. You can find those in your telephone book yellow pages under the heading "grocers-retail" or on the internet. If you can't find your favorite foods in one of these places your university dietitian can probably help you find a place that does have what you're looking for.

A habit many students start at the University is skipping breakfast and other meals. This can make it difficult to concentrate. Breakfast is fuel for your body and brain. It is extremely important. We know that students perform better on tests if they have had breakfast.

After breakfast, your body needs food at least every four hours; a meal or snack. It is easy for you to forget eating with all the studying you need to do. However, you can think and concentrate better with food every couple of hours. If you skip meals regularly, your body will run energy at a slower rate. The result is you feel sluggish and can't concentrate as well. If you need help with what foods you should be eating at UNT you can schedule an appointment with the Student Health and Wellness Center Dietician.

In the U.S., the leading cause of death is heart disease and cancer. Both are a result largely from the way we eat. In the U.S., people tend to eat too much saturated fat which is found in potato chips, fried foods, and pastries. Non-fried foods, olive oil, crackers, pretzels, fruits, and vegetables are a much healthier way to go. Americans also eat too much protein and too few fruits and vegetables. At the UNT Student Health and Wellness Center we sometimes see international students who are diagnosed with high blood cholesterol and high triglycerides values primarily because they eat a typical U.S. diet once they move here from their homeland.

If you have any questions on how to find your favorite foods, or what to eat, you can schedule and appointment with the Dietitian at the UNT Student Health and Wellness Center by calling (940) 565-2333.

Physical Fitness

You see them everywhere when you are walking or driving down the street - the joggers, walkers, bikers, roller bladers, etc. The sidewalks and health clubs are packed with people striving for the ultimate goal - perfect health and fitness. But how do we achieve health and fitness and how do we know what is right or not? With so many products on the market and so many gyms in town, what is the best and safest choice to achieve and maintain health and fitness?

Before beginning an exercise program, you should asses your current fitness level. The best exercise for most beginners is walking. Start out with 1-2 times per week for about 10 minutes, then gradually increase from there.

Walking is one exercise that you will never need to buy a membership to a gym - just go outside! However, if you are more comfortable in a gym environment or the weather is too hot or cold, your university probably has a couple of different options for you. At UNT, if you live in the residence halls, check out one of the fitness rooms. Every residence hall has a fitness room available to its residents. Also available to UNT students is the Pohl Recreation Center which is a weightlifting / aerobic exercise / swimming facility with various outdoor pursuits and club sports. The hours vary so call (940) 565-2275.  If you are an international student at another university ask for the gym and walking groups that exist at your university.

If you aren't sure where to start or need some help figuring out the right exercise program for you, there is yet another resource available. The university health center may have certified fitness specialists to help people determine your exercise needs and goals.

Reproductive and Sexual Health

As a newcomer to the United States, you may have heard many rumors or stories about reproductive and sexual health. You may also find that while not all, some college students in the U.S. are more open about discussing sex and sexual activity. Others may have initiated sexual activity at an early age and may have had several sexual partners either prior to or after entering college.

We regard sexual decision-making as a very personal decision and encourage you to consider your values, both personal and cultural along with the health consequences of initiating or participating in sexual activity.

The university campus usually has many professional resources to help you with these difficult decisions. Please feel free to contact a health professional at the UNT Student Health and Wellness Center, the Counseling and Testing Center or an advisor at the International Admissions and Advising Center for assistance.

The problems associated with Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD's) or infections, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), and unplanned pregnancy have made sexual contact a risky business. Not only could an infection compromise your physical and mental well-being, but an unplanned pregnancy could create difficulties in continuing your education.

Abstinence, not participating in any type of sexual activity or genital contact, may be the best choice for many. Keep in mind that some students may say they are abstaining from sexual activities that they consider less risky. Be aware that the only 100% way to protect yourself is to not participate in any sexual activity.

If you decide to participate in sex we encourage you to seek guidance from the Student Health and Wellness Center, Counseling and Testing Center or the International Admissions and Advising Center, so you can take every available precaution to decrease your risk.

There are more than 25 types of sexually transmitted diseases commonly seen on college campuses. Unfortunately, there is no way to determine if a person is infected by just looking at him or her. Many of the STDs are symptomless. The person infected may be totally unaware that he or she is carrying a virus or bacteria and may unknowingly infect others.

There are some STDs that may cause long-term complications that may affect your ability to become pregnant, to father a child, or to have a healthy baby.

While no protection is 100% guaranteed, the good news is that protection against an STD or unplanned pregnancy can be highly effective if used consistently and correctly. Contact a health professional for more information about STDs or pregnancy protection. For more information, you can also contact the National STD Hotline at (800) 227-8922.

Pregnancy Prevention and Birth Control Options

There are several methods for birth control that ought to be explained to you before engaging in their use. Here are some examples of the most relevant types.

Abstinence

No sexual or genital contact. No participating in sexual activity.

Condom

Placed over a man's erect penis, condoms prevent pregnancy by stopping sperm from reaching the uterus. When used correctly, latex condoms also can help prevent the spread of STDs, such as HIV, Chlamydia, genital herpes, and genital warts. Condoms are usually available at most grocery stores, drug stores, and the Student Health and Wellness Center Pharmacy.

Diaphragm

Inserted into the woman's vagina, diaphragms cover the cervix and prevent pregnancy by stopping sperm from reaching the uterus. Diaphragms should be used with spermicidal jellies or creams for maximum effectiveness.

Cervical Cap

Like diaphragms, cervical caps are inserted into the woman's vagina to cover the cervix and prevent sperm from entering the uterus. Cervical caps should be used with spermicidal jellies or creams.

Spermicide

Contraceptive foams, jellies, creams, and suppositories contain chemical spermicide which, when inserted into the vagina, prevent pregnancy by killing sperm before they enter the uterus. Recommended along with another barrier or hormonal contraceptive. Used alone may have a higher failure rate.

Injection

The birth control shot (Depo-Provera) administered every three months, contains a hormone that helps prevent pregnancy. Pelvic exam and pap smear are required.

Pill

Birth control pills contain hormones that prevent pregnancy. Today's pills are safe and effective for most women if taken as prescribed. Pelvic exam and pap smear required.

IUDs (Intrauterine Devices)

An IUD is a small, T-shaped plastic piece, which contains either copper or a hormone that prevents pregnancy. A doctor or nurse practitioner places it into the uterus. Very limited in use due to potential complications.

Periodic Abstinence (Rhythm Method)

Periodic abstinence method consists of avoiding sex during the woman's fertile period. This is accomplished by using a calendar, basal body temperature, or mucous methods. Requires training to learn.

Surgery

A woman may undergo sterilization, which involves surgery to seal the woman's fallopian tubes (tubal ligation). In male sterilization, or vasectomy, the tube that carries the sperm are sealed or tied.

Birth Control and Contraceptives

MYTHS

  1. A woman will not get pregnant the first time she has sex.
  2. A woman can only get pregnant one time a month.
  3. A woman will not get pregnant if her partner tells her it is "safe."
  4. A woman will not get pregnant if her partner "pulls out."
  5. A woman will not get pregnant if she urinates or douches after sexual activity.

TRUTHS

  1. Pregnancy can occur anytime ovulation (release of an egg) occurs.
  2. In theory an egg is released monthly. However, even though an egg may only live about 24 hours, we know that sperm can live several days in the uterus.
  3. It takes a high degree of skill to determine your ovulation time. It is unlikely that a partner could accurately tell if it is "safe" for you to have unprotected sex.
  4. Even if the partner pulls out before ejaculation, semen and sperm may have entered the vagina in the pre-ejaculate fluid.
  5. Douching or urinating after sex will not stop any semen and sperm that have already entered the uterus through the cervix.

Women's Health Issues

Another area of U.S. health care that may be very different for you, is the area of women's health. It is considered a normal practice for women to have an annual or regular internal examination of the genital and pelvic area. We call this exam a pelvic exam.

Most often a specific test is associated with this internal exam which is called a Pap test. This is a laboratory test where cells are checkedfor abnormalities. Abnormal cells may occur with some STDS or cancer. Most physicians require this type of examination prior to prescribing certain types of birth control, such as the pill or the shot.

We recognize that this type of an examination may be uncomfortable and stressful for many international students. Therefore an in-depth educational video is available on this website under Educational Resources.  The video provides information about the procedure so you will know more about what to expect. In addition, the video provides information on birth control choices.

While it is not uncommon in the U.S. for a male physician or practitioner to perform the pelvic exam and pap smear we recognize that for many this is uncomfortable or may even be unacceptable. Therefore you may schedule your appointment with either a male or a female practitioner. If your appointment is with a male, then a female nurse will be present during the examination. Since it will be necessary for you to disrobe or undress for the exam, drapes and gowns will be used to keep your body parts covered and to provide warmth. At the time of the examination, it is also very common for the physician or practitioner to complete a physical exam that might include checking the eyes, ears, nose, throat, lungs, heart, breasts, abdomen, and legs. In addition, most practitioners will order some laboratory testing to further evaluate your health status. These tests will generally require a blood or urine sample.

Many people regard the drawing of the blood sample as difficult. We recognize that some people, and, in some cultures, having blood drawn is an invasive procedure or is not an acceptable practice, and you might feel very uncomfortable having this done. If the blood sample procedure creates any problems or difficulties for you, please feel free to discuss it with the doctor, nurse, or lab technologist.

Dental Health Issues

Dental care is another important area for international students. Stress, inadequate nutrition, and improper cleaning technique may contribute to increase the risk for dental disease.

It is important that you go to the health center at your university and inquire about services available in their areas.

In the U.S. insurance is available for dental care. Check in your insurance policy to determine whether or not dental care is covered.

Resources include free or reduced cost clinics offered at universities that have dental hygiene, or dental schools, such as Texas Women's University Dental Hygiene Clinic - (940) 898-2870.

Tobacco

Cultures may view the use of tobacco products differently. In the United States we often struggle with the issues of health problems, illnesses and death that may be related to tobacco use versus the right of a person to choose to use tobacco freely. Therefore you may read or hear about news stories related to the tobacco industry, tobacco use, and freedom of choice.

The U.S. has recently enacted laws prohibiting persons under the age of 18 from purchasing, possessing, or using tobacco. In addition, UNT will transition to a smoke-free campus beginning January 1, 2013.  Because of the problems associated with secondhand smoke and the smell associated with using tobacco, it is common practice to ask permission before smoking or using tobacco in another person's room, home, or car.

Smoking and tobacco use are associated with illness and premature death. Some health hazards of tobacco use include:

  • Young smokers have a two-times greater risk of having a heart attack than young non-smokers.
  • As one grows older, this risk is five times greater in smokers than non-smokers.
  • Cigarettes and cigarette smoke contain more than 4,000 chemicals, 43 known to cause cancer.
  • Smoking is responsible for more than one out of every six deaths in the U.S. and remains the single most important preventable cause of death in our society.
  • Nicotine in cigarettes is ADDICTIVE.

To help promote a smoke-free campus, the UNT Student Health and Wellness Center has developed an effective and highly successful program that includes medication management to help with withdrawal from the addictive substances and one-on-one confidential counseling.

If you are a tobacco user, we strongly encourage you to consider enrolling in a program. You will find that your circulation and lung function will improve and you will feel much better in just a few months after you quit. In addition, tobacco users who quit for one year reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack significantly. After 15 years your risk is considered that of a person who has never smoked, or used tobacco.

Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders are common among international college students and may be related to the unfamiliar living arrangements, or the stress of coming to the U.S. In addition, differences in classroom participation and academic stress may make sleep very difficult.

Differences in communication styles and relationships are also common factors in insomnia along with the loss of time with loved ones, changes in climate, food, lifestyle, and community living.

Lack of sleep at night can have grave consequences including an increase in accidents, decreased productivity and interpersonal problems.  Because we recognize that getting enough rest and sleep is essential to your health and well-being, we encourage you to seek medical attention at the Student Health and Wellness Center if you are not sleeping well.

Keep in mind that the health care provider will most likely do a physical examination and run laboratory tests to rule out medical problems. It will be unlikely for the physician to recommend a herbal preparation, or to prescribe sleep or rest medications. Rather, you might expect a referral to a counselor, psychologist or a mental health practitioner to help you address issues that may be keeping you awake.

Alcohol

Laws concerning the sale of alcohol in the United States seem either very liberal or very strict depending upon your country of origin. Purchasing alcohol is illegal in Texas for persons under the age of 21. This includes beer and wine. It is also illegal to have an open container of alcohol in a car.

The University of North Texas has very strict policies on possession and consumption of alcohol on campus. Individual students, or organizations violating the University policies are subject to disciplinary action that might include counseling, probation, and loss of privileges or even suspension of enrollment.

Some students view using alcohol as very "cool" and may talk about getting "high" or "wasted". They may even brag about the amount of alcohol ingested at a party or activity.

Alcohol acts as a depressant and it can affect your mood, and dull sensations. It also impairs thinking, coordination, reflexes, memory, and judgment. It is essential, if you choose to drink that you not operate machinery, drive a car, or be in a situation where judgment, coordination, and memory are necessary. Alcohol is the leading cause of death for individuals aged 15-24. This is primarily due to motor vehicle accidents, driving while intoxicated, or riding in a vehicle that an alcohol or drug-impaired person is driving.

If you have any questions or concerns about alcohol use/misuse or abuse feel free to contact the Counseling and Testing Center or the Substance Abuse Resource Center located in Chestnut Hall.

Cancer

Cancer refers to a group of more than 100 different diseases. Cancer occurs when cells become abnormal and keep dividing and forming more cells without control or order. If the cells keep dividing and growing, a mass of tissue grows. This is called a tumor, and it can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). The risk of developing cancer varies from country to country, so your risk may vary depending on your country of origin. However, as you become more acculturated and adapt lifestyles similar to other Americans, your cancer risk may change and become similar to other citizens in the U.S. Some types of cancer that may occur in the college-aged population:

  • Cancer of the cervix It may be related to a sexually transmitted infection called Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). This type of cancer may be detected during the pap smear as abnormal cells or in the precancerous state. Easily treated if detected early.
  • Testicular cancer This is cancer of the male testicles. It is probably one of the hardest cancers for males to discuss. In spite of this, men must learn about the danger of this cancer and the need for regular testicular self-examinations. The most common warning sign is the appearance of a small, hard, painless lump, about the size of a pea, on the front or the side of the testicle. Other symptoms may include a feeling of heaviness in the testicle, enlargement of the testicle, change in how the testicle feels to the touch, or a dull ache in the groin. It is important that if you find anything unusual, see a physician or medical services practitioner immediately. Don't wait for the problem to go away.
  • Breast cancer For some international students, it may be difficult to perform a self-examination of the breast because of cultural values. Although cultural consideration is extremely important, it is also necessary to recognize the value of early detection of breast cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends performing breast self-examinations every month, examination by a health care professional every year, and a mammogram every one to two years if you are over 40 years of age. Keeping up with the practice may be difficult in the beginning, but it helps to acquire early treatment when needed.
  • Skin cancer This is the most common type of cancer in the United States. Several risk factors increase the chance of getting skin cancer, including natural sunlight, sunlamps, and tanning booths.

    -The risk is greatest for those who have fair skin and freckles. Where a person lives also determines the risk for cancer. Worldwide, the highest rates of skin cancers are found in South African and Australia.

    -In the U.S., skin cancer is much more common in Texas than in other states because the sun is much stronger.

    -For this reason, it is important that you wear protective clothing, such as sun hats and long sleeves and use sunscreen to help protect the skin. Sunscreens are rated in strength according to an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) which ranges from 2 to 15 on up to 40.

    -The higher the number on the label, the greater the protection a sunscreen provides. Using a sunscreen does not eliminate sun exposure. Therefore, you may need to monitor you skin for signs of burning.

    -The most common warning sign of skin cancer is a change on the skin, especially a new growth or a sore that doesn't heal. Skin cancer has many different appearances so it is essential that you have any suspicious areas checked by your doctor.

    -The cure rate for skin cancer could be 100% if all skin cancers were brought to the doctor's attention before they had a chance to spread. You can improve your chance of finding skin cancer promptly by performing a simple skin self-examination each month. Feel free to visit the Student Health and Wellness Center to learn more about protecting yourself from skin cancer.

You can take some steps to decrease your cancer risk. About one-third of all cancer risk may be related to what we eat. To decrease these risks follow these guidelines for a healthy diet including:

  • Eat a variety of foods
  • Maintain a desirable weight
  • Avoid too much fat and cholesterol in your diet
  • Eat foods with adequate starch and fiber
  • Avoid too much sugar and salt
  • Drink alcoholic beverages in moderation

Our current understanding of the cause of cancer is incomplete, but we do know that cancer develops as a result of a complex mix of factors related to lifestyles, environment, and heredity. Besides diet, they may also relate the development of cancer to the use of tobacco products, exposure to sunlight, and drinking large amounts of alcohol. For more information on cancer prevention, detection, and care, please contact the American Cancer Society, The National Cancer Institute, or the Student Health and Wellness Center.

Mental Health and Stress Management Counseling

Coming to the United States may create a sense of "culture shock". You may experience some problems as you adjust to the changes. Some report feeling exhilarated with the new experiences, sights, sounds, and activities.

Sometimes, however, international students may notice that there are differences in the cultures that might be more irritating than exciting. During this time you might feel homesick, and experience a decrease in desire to participate in activities. In addition, stress may be seen in physical symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, upset stomach, nervousness, or sleep disturbances. Some report a feeling of depression that might lead to difficulty with course work or concentration, fatigue, and boredom.

When you notice that you are experiencing uncomfortable feelings or symptoms, it is important that you seek help. A visit with an international advisor may be helpful. Talk with other international students, especially those who may be familiar with your culture. Other helpful resources might include the Counseling and Testing Center, the Psychology Clinic, or the Student Health and Wellness Center.

Though many cultures view the mind and body as one and recognize the mind-body connection, many medical practitioners in the UnitedStates focus more on the physical aspect of health first. It is common, especially with medical doctors, to order specific laboratory testing or x-rays to assess symptoms that you are having. If the test results are all normal the medical practitioner may order a consultation with a mental health professional.

Some international students feel uncomfortable or a sense of hesitation in consulting a mental health professional. In the United States referral to a mental health professional is very common. We find that mental health professionals can be very effective in helping our students with issues of adjustment, depression, stress, or strain.

All discussions with a mental health professional counselor or psychologist are considered confidential, so there is no need to worry about anyone other than the medical practitioner being aware of the issues you discuss. Many will find having someone to talk to who can provide guidance about possible responses or actions to take, very helpful.

What is stress?

Stress is defined as a perceived substantial imbalance between demand and response capability under conditions where failure to meet demand has important perceived consequences. This means that the environment you are in is viewed as placing more demands on you than you feel you can adequately meet.

Terms

Stressor: Something external to the individual. It is often the environment or condition that results in stress.

Stressful: Pertains to an environment that has many stressors.

Strain: Stress reaction. Seen as internal to the individual or the short-term physiologic, psychological, or behavioral signs of stress.

What are the signs of stress?

Stress will display itself in a variety of contexts such as:

Thoughts: Difficulty concentrating, thinking constantly about a single item (ruminating), being overly critical, and thinking negatively

Feelings: Feeling tired, irritable, tense, nervous, trapped, decreased sex drive, anger, chronic anxiety, sadness, worry, guilt, boredom, impatience, hostility, and apathy.

Physical: Muscle aches, teeth grinding, cold hands/feet, rapid heart beat, headaches, neck pain, back pain, upset stomach, high blood pressure, skin rashes, increased/decreased appetite, and sleeping problems.

As international students, you may experience stressors that typical American students do not. These stressors include, but are not limited to:

  1. Being in a completely new country and culture
  2. Being a significant distance from your home
  3. Struggling to learn, speak, and comprehend a new language
  4. Managing limits on the time you have to complete a degree before you are required to return to your home country

Managing stress

What if you are experiencing the adverse effects of stress? First, accept that everyone experiences stress in their lives. Stress is not necessarily a bad thing. However, when it begins to interfere with your ability to effectively, efficiently, and energetically engage in your daily activities and pleasures, it is time to seek some guidance and support. Recognize that seeking guidance and support is not a sign of weakness or incompetence, but rather a sign of healthy interdependence.

For those international students who are enrolled at the University of North Texas, there are a variety of systems and services set up to assist you in adjusting to the stresses and strains of obtaining an education. These services include:

Student Health and Wellness Center: Has medical providers, psychiatrists, and other health professionals that you can talk with. The SWHC is located in Chestnut Hall at 1800 Chestnut - (940) 565-2333.

Psychology Clinic: As a student, you can go and talk with a mental health professional. Located on the southeast corner of Mulberry and Avenue C - (940) 565-2631. 

Counseling and Testing: As a student, you can speak with a counselor free of charge at the Counseling and Testing center in Chestnut Hall.

Recreation and Sports: As a student, you can use the Pohl Recreation Center located at 1900 Chestnut - (940) 565-2275.  

Immunizations

International students may be asked to provide proof of vaccinations when enrolling in an academic program at a university or college.

In some universities, international students are required to take a test (PPD) to determine previous exposure to the Tuberculosis Bacillus (TB). Some departments such as food service may require that you take this test if you are working for them.

Some vaccines you are recommended to have are Hepatitis B, Influenza, Measles, Mumps, Pneumococcal disease, Rubella (German Measles), Tetanus, and Diphtheria. If you have any questions about them, do not hesitate to ask your medical provider.

Effective January 1, 2012, all new students, including transfer students, must show evidence of receipt of an initial bacterial meningitis vaccination (meningococcal meningitis vaccine) dose or booster in the last five years and at least 10 days prior to the first day of the semester in which the student initially enrolls.   

It is very important that you keep up with your immunizations in order to prevent disease and further complications.