With worries about living away from home for the first time, making new friends with new people and dealing with a new, increased workload, going to university can be a daunting experience for anyone. If you only have half a working heart the anxiety can be greater. However, this can still be an amazing experience where you can learn, meet new friends and experience independence.

In writing this information the Little Hearts Matter team hope to provide a guide for young adults with single ventricle heart disease (SVHD) who would like to explore going to university, and answer some of the questions you may have about life at university with a complex cardiac condition.

We have also asked some LHM members who are at university about their experiences. Using this guide we hope that you can see that university is still a real possiblity and option if you manage your heart condition responsibly alongside your studies and social life.

Please contact the team at LHM if you have any unanswered questions – email us at [email protected] or call us on 0121 455 8982.

Click here to download a pdf copy of Your guide to university with half a heart.

Contents

Where to start...

First things first

It sounds obvious but the decision about whether or not to go to university and what to study when you get there normally starts before you choose your A Level subjects.

Have a think about what subjects you would like to study and then look at some university websites to find out the entrance requirements for that course. For example, to study History you often need an A grade History A Level. If you don’t think you will get the required grades then find a subject you will enjoy studying that you can achieve the grades for.

Remember, not all universities ask for the same grades so have a look around! It’s also important to research courses and think about what the workload is going to be like – it’s a big step from college to university in terms of working, but certain courses need more work than others (not just physically!)

Tip

If something comes up at the time of your exams that affects your grades, universities will let you submit an extenuating circumstances form which means it will be taken into account when the university is considering your application.

Which university?

You can apply to five universities on UCAS (the online system you will use to apply to university – check it out at www.ucas.com) and you will need to spend some time thinking about where you want to spend the next three years (or more, depending on the course) of your life. This is a big decision for any new student but here are a few specific things to consider when going to university with single ventricle heart disease (SVHD).

Where is it?

There are pros and cons to living a long way from home; many people can’t wait to move to the opposite side of the country so that their family can’t get involved with their university lives and that independence is great but here are a few things to think about:

  • If you are feeling homesick or unwell, how long will it take to get home?
  • How much will it cost to get home?
  • How far is it to you cardiac treatment centre? Think about travelling to and from the centre. It may only be once or it may be more frequent.
  • If you need help with your day-to-day living, who is available to provide that support?

Campus or off-campus?

There are two different types of university layouts: campus or off-campus.

In your first year you are usually provided with university hall accommodation either on campus or off.

Campus means that all student accommodation, lecture halls, bars, clubs, shops and sometimes GPs and pharmacies, etc are all on the same site.

These sites are often huge towns filled with students, and everything tends to be within a manageable walking distance.

Off-campus means they are usually in big cities. Most London universities, for example, are off-campus as there isn’t the space for campus sites. This means that student halls are often a long way away from the actual university and travelling to and from can be a bit difficult. It also means that all the students are spread out and while also dealing with the new work, new friends and a new location you are also having to navigate yourself around a new city.

When looking into the different types of universities it is important you think about what will best benefit your physical limitations as well as everything else you need to think about.

There are pros and cons to both. If you have difficulty doing a lot of walking then have a look at an on-campus university as everything will be within an easier distance. If you have access to a car (perhaps because you have Higher Rate Mobility DLA or Enhanced Rate Mobility PIP), then an off-campus university might be manageable; just make sure you ask about parking before you go.

Not all unis are the same so do some research about the campuses available.

Accommodation

Accommodation at university (normally referred to as ‘halls’, short for halls of residence) is usually only available for the first year but some universities will make it available for longer if you have a complex medical condition.

Make sure to research the different types of halls on offer at each university – there are a huge variety of choices such as individual flats, shared flats, dormitories, etc. Think about what would be best for you, as there are pros and cons to each.

Some questions to consider are

  • Would I be comfortable living with other people?
  • Do I value time to myself and my own space?
  • How many people would I be sharing with?
  • Would I feel more comfortable having people around me in case of an emergency?

One thing to consider is ground floor accommodation. Some accommodation is only two or three floors, whilst others resemble tower blocks (although this does mean they’re more likely to have a lift which can really help). Being on a ground floor can do wonders for your energy levels, meaning you can conserve it for the really important things – like studying and socialising! Most universities will cater to people with a medical condition so make sure to request ground floor if you think it will help – and explain why it would help you.

The first year at uni can be a wonderful, exciting time but can be a bit overwhelming, and also tiring. You may not want the added stress of having to cook for yourself every day as well. If you find yourself exhausted after going to school/college, you may want someone else cooking for you. Just a warning though – some halls’ food is great, other not so much. If you go to look around unis at open days it’s always a good idea to ask current students what the food is like!

Catered or self-catered?

When looking into student accommodation you will have to make a choice of catered or self-catered.

This decision will depend a lot on whether you are a good cook and feel able to feed yourself and whether you want the added hassle of having to shop and cook for yourself. With a lot of big supermarkets doing deliveries these days, you might not have to worry too much about physically going shopping and transporting it all back – but if you’re trying to live on a budget (which most students are!) then places where you’re likely to bag yourself some bargains might not do delivery.

Tip

Why not trial cooking for yourself for a week or two while you’re still at home, including going food shopping for things?

This is a great way to get some practical experience of what it’s like living on your own, as well as how to plan your meals and manage a budget.

Travel links

How easy is it to get around? Have a look at trains, buses and trams and work out potential distances to your lectures, to the shops, etc. Travel can be expensive, so research the local travel provider for an idea of prices and also passes. A lot of places will have student travel cards for discounts. If you are eligible to get a PIP allowance it may help with money for travel, and if you do end up going to an off-campus university, make sure to talk to them about potential travel bursaries.

A car on site may be possible if you have a blue badge. Be aware though that using a car at university can be expensive and parking may be an issue.

Where are the nearest GP and pharmacy?

Sometimes, you will have access to a GP and a pharmacy on campus, but in some cases you will have have to travel to get there. It is important that you have relatively easy access to both of these. Hopefully you won’t need to go to the GP that often but you will always need easy access to a pharmacy to get prescriptions. It is now your responsibility to ensure you get registered so that they are there if you need them. Remember, being independent includes ownership of this too.

Which course?

Even if you pick the same course for each university you’re applying to, the entry requirements and course content can vary. The various universities are likely to be different. You’ll probably be able to do the course that you want in a way that’ll fit in best for you with your heart. Some things to think about:

Choosing between courses

Even though a course can have the same name and code, each university will probably be slightly different, so a good way to narrow down your choices is to think about some of these questions:

  • Which modules are the most interesting and relevant to your career aspirations? Different career pathways will line up better with your abilities – it is important that the amount of energy needed to succeed in a job is one of your deciding factors.
  • How many lectures are there and how much group work will be done in seminars? Some courses will condense all their lectures over a few days, to allow time for independent study or placements. However, a full day of lectures – sometimes 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., could leave you drained. Some lectures can be from 7 p.m. onwards. Think about your energy levels and how this will affect your work.
  • What combination of exams, coursework or presentations is the course assessed by? You’ll have had a good experience of exams and how you cope with them so be sure to factor this in. Coursework might be better as you can work on it in your own time and at your own pace.
  • Think about external placements and how tiring hands-on experience might be.

How many contact hours?

Contact hours means the amount of time you will be in lectures – having ‘contact’ with a professor or lecturer. Some courses have very few contact hours, 10 or 12 a week (which when you compare it to the amount of time you are in school/college is nothing) while others could be just as many or more than you are currently doing. Don’t get too excited though: the courses that have very little contact time will require you to do a lot of independent study, reading and writing essays in your own time. This may be great for some of you but everybody is different so assess what works for you.

Tip

Would you prefer to have fewer contact hours so that you can do the majority of the work in your own time, at your own pace, taking as many breaks as you need if you get tired or would you prefer more contact hours, where you will get the majority of the work completed during lectures?

How good are you at time management? Will you be able to make sure you do the work required on your own rather than sleeping all day?

Who to talk to?

Most schools will organise for you to go to a university fair, where you have the opportunity to meet representatives of universities and ask them questions.

It’s a good idea to contact the university’s Disability Support Team (details will be found on university websites). They will be able to answer all your questions, help to guide you to a choice that is right for you and will also help to put a plan in place for you if/when you start at their uni. Following this plan can help you enjoy your university experience as well as ensuring that you are well and safe.

Arrange a visit yourself to look around. All universities have an open day so book a place! It’s a good idea to have a look at the university and its location to make sure you will be happy there. Try to meet your course team, director, tutors, etc before you start to talk about you and your heart condition.

It is also worth getting in touch with the accommodation officer if you find walking long distances tiring, as they will be able to tell you if you will be able to get a ground floor room or accommodation closer to your lecture theatres to make your life easier.

The application process

The university application process can feel long, tiring and at times frustrating.

You will always be talked through it at school/college so we don’t need to go into it in great detail here but just a reminder that when it comes to the disability section you are always better off disclosing any relevant information.

This information will only be used by the university in deciding who gets onto their course and will not impact on the way you are treated once at the university.

Universities have to fill a percentage of their courses with students with a disability to fulfil their equal opportunities quota. This is one of the few times where having a disability could work in your favour because, if you are applying for a highly competitive course, you may well get a place because you are extremely able, but also because the university can tick a box!

Once you have applied, universities will get back to you either offering you a place which is great or unfortunately declining your application. Very rarely will you get a place outright; you will usually get what is called a conditional offer, which is an offer based on your achieving the desired exam grades.


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Planning and packing...

Funding

Money can often be a problem for students as there never seems to be enough to cover rent, bills, food and having a social life. However, there are likely to be extra costs to your living when you have a complex cardiac condition. As well as the usual tuition fee and maintenance loans you can claim (you will get tips on how to contact them from your school/college), here are a few other tips…

Disabled Students Allowances

These are grants you may be able to get to cover costs like books, computers and software, printing and sometimes taxi costs. It is a good idea to arrange a meeting with the Disability Support Team as soon as you get your place and they will arrange an assessment where they will determine your needs and offer personal and financial support accordingly. Visit https://dsa-qag.org.uk.

HC1/HC2 or HC3 Allowance

These provide funding for dental care, prescriptions and also travel costs for hospital or doctor’s appointments. You will need to apply for these yourself as you are only eligible if you have a low income. Make sure your parents’ incomes are not included in the assessment. For more details and application forms visit www.nhsbsa.nhs.uk/nhs-low-income-scheme.

Bursaries or scholarships

Most universities offer scholarships or bursaries to help students fund their way through university. All students can apply for these but it is worth trying to get one if you know you are going to struggle financially. You will find details of the funding available from your university on their website.

Personal Independence Payment

If you haven’t got or have never applied for a PIP or Disability Living Allowance it is worth looking at applying before you leave home. These applications are individually evaluated and there is no guarantee that you will receive anything but if you do manage to get one you could receive between £22 and £141 a week to help with your living costs. For more information and an application form visit www.gov.uk/pip.

Part-time work

Lots of students will get a part-time job to help fund their way through university but it is important to think about how this will impact on your health as the extra hours and extra stress might affect your energy levels and mean it’s not worth it. Going to university with a complex heart condition will seem like a juggling act, so try to make sure you aren’t taking on more than you can handle safely. If you think you will struggle balancing university and work it could be worth getting a summer job before you go so that you build up some savings for when you get there.

University holidays are long so it’s a good opportunity to work then instead of during the term-time when you are likely to be swamped by everything else.

Things to do

  • Call your cardiac nurse specialist and arrange a letter explaining your heart condition to keep with you at university. They may also link you with a cardiologist closer to your university.
  • Call the university’s Disability Support Team for guidance about what you need to do before you start at university and to start the Disability Support Allowance application process.
  • Check your loans, grants and allowances have been confirmed.
  • Ensure you have your cardiac medical team’s contact details on your phone and easily accessible.

Things to take to university

Pills

Make sure you have enough medication for the first few weeks so you don’t have to think about re-stocking until you are fully settled in. It’s also a good idea to take along a repeat prescription while you are registering at a GP.

A disabled person’s railcard

If you are eligible for one.

A disability car parking badge

If you are taking a car to university.

A medical information bracelet

This is quite an important thing to consider as you will be around people who won’t necessarily know of your condition and so if something were to happen this would very quickly provide a medic with the relevant information. You can find some really great ones online!

Tip

It’s worth getting your parents/carers at home to talk you through basic household chores (like how to use a washing machine, change a light bulb, use an iron) before you leave as well as jotting down some favourite recipes if you are going into self-catered accommodation. It sounds obvious but you’d be amazed at how much you don’t know about living away from home. You don’t want to be the person who floods the laundry room because you used washing-up liquid instead of detergent!


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Freshers' week...

Meeting people

You will meet hundreds of people in your first few weeks of university and will be asked the same questions (your name, where you are from, what you are studying and where your halls are) over and over again – often you will feel like writing the answers on your forehead just so you don’t have to answer them again!

The first few days will be a blur of faces and names. If you don’t meet anyone in the first week that you see yourself becoming firm friends with, don’t worry, there are thousands of people at university and there will be someone that  you click with. The people you spend the first three weeks with are rarely the people you will spend the next three years with so take as many opportunities as you can to meet new people.

Sometimes people may ask you about your scar, or you may be in a situation where people ask why you are doing things.

Freshers’ week is the first week of uni where you will:

  • Sort out your room and unpack.
  • Enrol – be prepared for some long queues.
  • Get your bearings, your location in relation to lecture theatres etc.
  • Join clubs and societies.
  • Prepare for your DSA assessment.
  • Get drunk? – most students will see this week as a chance to drink their yearly alcohol allowance…every day! (More on this later under ‘The social scene’).
  • Possibly most importantly meet people.
  • Register with a doctor and dentist! The university will be able to provide information on where you can register. You will need your national health card, proof of address, ID and details of your previous GP when you register. If you don’t know where your national heath card is, don’t worry, you can fill in a form at the GP’s.
  • Think carefully about balancing your energy levels and having fun. You don’t have to go to everything.

Joining clubs

Joining clubs is often a great way of meeting new people and doing something when taking a break from university work.

Universities will have a freshers’ fair within the first few days of arrival where you will be able to get all the details of any clubs and societies you may want to join.

Remember to think about how much time and energy you are going to have and what your physical limitations are. It’s great to get involved with things that aren’t to do with your course but make sure you don’t take on too much as it can become expensive and tiring!

You can explore a number of different clubs but remember you can always step away if the commitment becomes too much. Just remember to ask about the refund policy if you have had to pay!

Tip

There are many types of clubs and no two universities are the same so it’s a really good idea to do some research once you know where you will be attending. You can find clubs for fun or clubs and societies that work well with your chosen degree. From chess to tango and Harry Potter to economics, there’s something for everyone.

These are great ways to make friends but remember to keep an eye on your energy levels. Clubs are great but your studies and health are really important.

Preparing for your DSA assessment

Think about all of the areas of your life and education that are affected by your heart condition and make a list.

Think about how tired you get, how you handle exam and deadline pressure, the effects of your medication and your ability to walk around and carry books. These are just a few things you should think about.

It is important to tell your DSA team as much as possible to make sure they can provide you with the right support while you’re at uni. Try to think about what would be your worst day – don’t downplay your condition. This is actually one of the occasions when it could help you out! We know this can seem like a really negative thing to do, but it could really help in the end and help make your uni life more enjoyable.


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The social scene...

Nights out

There are four kinds of nights out at uni…

  1. Union nights take place at the student union bar, where there are often themed nights, comedy nights, and karaoke nights.
  2. Big nights, a trip to the town centre where you can find clubs, bars and pub crawls.
  3. Quiet nights, trips to the theatre, cinema, bowling, skating.
  4. House parties.

ALL OF THESE WILL INVOLVE ALCOHOL…and large amounts of it! So we move on to…

Drinking alcohol when you have SVHD

The medical info on drinking can be found in the health section but this section deals with the social side of drinking alcohol.

Drinking is a part of university life and people may expect you to drink so you could face some incredulity when you say you aren’t drinking or are seen to be drinking less than others.

Tips on how to handle alcohol when at university

  • Work out where you stand on the issue of alcohol. If you know your own mind it will be easier to stay true to yourself and not make an impulsive decision while out without thinking through the consequences.
  • Trust your own judgement and don’t be swayed by peer pressure.
  • If you are with people you feel comfortable with then explain the situation. You don’t need to go into details but most people you meet at uni will probably be quite fascinated as they are unlikely to have met anyone with a complex cardiac condition. University isn’t like school where you are expected to fit in: at university being different and individual is often celebrated.
  • If you are out with a big crowd – the likelihood is no one will notice if you aren’t drinking. If you are having a lemonade or coke people will assume that you have vodka or gin in there too!

Drinking games

These are a way some people ‘warm up’ for a night out. They get very drunk in their rooms or communal areas so that they don’t have to spend as much money when they go out. Drinking games may look like fun but the combination of a large amount of alcohol drunk very quickly can have a severe impact on your heart. Drinking this much this fast poses risks for everyone but having a complex cardiac condition makes the risks more severe.

If you want to be involved but are uncomfortable explaining the situation you could:

  • Drink out of a can, which will mean no one knows how much you drink and no one will question it.
  • Drink a non-alcoholic drink.
  • Drink something with a low ABV (alcohol by volume) and drink more slowly and less than others.

Drinking is a personal choice that no one can make but you. Whatever you choose, make sure you know the risks and never put yourself in a position that is likely to impact your health.


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Studying...

Lectures, seminars and time management

The jump between A Levels and a degree is huge. The degree structure on most courses will encourage independent study and so you will have to be more disciplined about your time management than you are used to. This isn’t like school – if you are assigned ‘homework’ and you don’t do it, you won’t get detention and your parents won’t be called. Your lecturer will probably just say they’re disappointed in you, and at the end of the day you’re only letting yourself down – you’re paying a lot of money to be at university so don’t waste it!

Most degrees have between 10 and 20 contact hours each week which are made up of lectures, tutorials and seminars. It is crucial you make as many of these as possible but if you are too ill or tired to attend, don’t worry. Most universities will display lecture notes on their website or you could ask a friend to record a session on their mobile phone and ask to see their notes so you don’t miss anything.

You may find yourself tempted to use all of your spare time to socialise, sleep or watch TV but if you get tired easily or get quite stressed with a large workload, getting into the discipline of doing a few hours of independent work a day means that there won’t be that rush of work when deadlines are looming.

At the start of the year you will be assigned a personal tutor, who is there to help you with any problems, big or small. If you are struggling with any part of the course, the amount of hours or workload, and are feeling snowed under, have a chat with them. It’s also a good idea to contact the DSA officer as they may be able to help you put a study plan in place so that you cope with the workload. Most universities offer study management sessions, which are a great resource to take advantage of.

Get a water bottle to carry around: it’s surprising how thirsty you can get during long days of concentrating.

Tip

Writing your own timeline and sticking to it is a good idea. Just make sure you give yourself some ‘downtime’.

Books and computers

All degrees, no matter what you are studying, require you to read lots of different books and also to use computer programs.

Most of you will have laptops or computers already but books, software and printing can be expensive. These are all usually available in your university library and IT labs but when you go to your DSA assessment really emphasise how tiring walking around and carrying heavy books can be for you. You get an allowance for books, software programs and a printer and ink costs so that you don’t have to travel to and from the library and can do your work in the comfort of your own accommodation.

Don’t feel bad asking for this. Universities are given extra money to support students with medical conditions. The facility is there for you, so use it!

Exams and deadlines

Similarly to GCSE and A Level exams you can request extra time and other help in your exams. It is important you discuss this with your DSA support officer ahead of time in your initial assessment and don’t leave it until it’s too late. We want your hard work and effort to be worth it and this can really help.

If you have a valid reason for not being able to make a deadline you can apply for an extension, or make an appeal if you have already missed it. Visit your subject secretary and they will be able to tell you who to approach. If you miss an exam for a valid reason, e.g. illness, then you can complete a mitigating circumstances form and submit it along with any medical evidence to ensure that missing the exam won’t mean you fail the year.

In both of these cases, if you know you are unlikely to make the exam or deadline ahead of time, let the university know beforehand rather than after, as it looks better and makes them aware of the situation. In some cases they may be able to reschedule exams or give you a ‘pass’ to carry on the next year on condition you pass the exam the next time around.

Universities are used to handling these things; lots of students miss exams every year for one reason or another. Just make sure you find the right support.

Stress management

Being at university and having a new study system to follow, with all of its exams, assignments, assessments and deadlines can be stressful for anyone but it is especially important for someone with SVHD to ensure they stay as stress-free and relaxed as possible so they don’t incur any additional health problems.

There are lots of obvious things to do to help you manage stress. Eating and sleeping well are crucial but also breaking down work into manageable bits, taking regular breaks and talking to someone if things become too much are paramount.

Talk to your tutor and Disability Support Team. They are able to help with any problems or challenges.


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Health and welfare...

If you have any questions about your medical care and risks to your health from a university lifestyle ask your cardiologist and specialist nurse for their advice either before you leave home or while you are away.

Freshers’ bugs

It is very common for young people just starting university to catch colds, coughs, flu and other infections from their friends. The combination of late nights, lack of sleep and poor diet means your immune system is low and with many new people in one place there are lots of bugs flying around.

All young people with a complex heart problem should think about protecting themselves from two important infections.

Jabs

Flu – get your flu jab every year to give yourself added protection from the annual winter bug.

Meningitis – is a grotty infection that affect the brain and nerves and can be very nasty. You can give yourself added protection with a one-off jab Men ACWY vaccination before you go into halls of residence. You may have had the jab done when you were younger but check with your GP and get the inoculation before you leave home.

Alcohol

So we’ve discussed the social side of drinking. Here’s where we give you the information about alcohol and a complex heart condition so whatever your decision about drinking, you have all the facts at your fingertips.

Drinking large amounts of alcohol regularly has risks for anyone – liver disease, reduced fertility, high blood pressure and increased risks of cancer and heart attacks being some of them, and these harms can stay hidden for many years.

For someone with a reduced heart function the risk is increased and can be more immediate. Large amounts of alcohol can cause your heart rate to speed up rapidly and affect the efficiency of the heart. Alcohol can also affect your liver function and interfere with the absorption of some medications, preventing them from working correctly, and lead to arrhythmias.

Alcohol can be especially risky for people on Warfarin or other anticoagulants as it increases the effects, thinning your blood further and therefore increasing the risk of bleeding.

All of this sounds really scary but it’s about being safe. It is important you ask your cardiologist what they would recommend as your maximum daily intake as each person is different and you need to know how much your body can reasonably expect to handle. If you are sensible and stick to this recommended amount it is unlikely to interfere with your Warfarin levels.

Binge drinking

Binge drinking, of which there is a lot at university, is the real risk. One risk is that your liver may not cope, you can end up vomiting and not absorb medication, and it can contribute to accidents, loss of memory and poor judgement which can risk your personal safety and wellbeing. We want you to have fun at university and really experience life but your health and safety is very important too! Keep this in mind.

If you decide to drink, here are some tips…

  • Decide on your limit before going out and try to stick to it.
  • Try to alternate every alcoholic drink with water to dilute the effects.
  • Eat a good meal before going out to slow the absorption of alcohol into the system.
  • If you decide to drink, do it in moderation and stick to lower alcohol by volume (ABV) options. Cider and lager are around 4-5% ABV while a single shot of vodka is 40% ABV: you do the maths!
  • Plan how to get home safely and always have spare money for a taxi home in case you need it.
  • Stay with people that you trust.
  • If you have an Android phone, download the drinkstracker app. It’s free and gives you information on units and how much you have drunk.

Being spiked

Being spiked is when someone, unknowingly to you, adds a drug often referred to as a ‘date rape drug’ to your drink. This is a sad and scary truth and can happen anywhere; even if you are at a friend’s house there may be someone you don’t know so it’s always best to stay safe.

‘Date rape’ drugs are so called as they are known to be used in drug-assisted sexual exploitation: they make you less aware of what is happening and less in control of your body. Although this is one of the reasons people spike drinks there are also many others. People think it’s fun or will do it to ‘help you to relax’. Although this sounds scary there is only a small risk but it is important to stay safe.

Tips to stay safe

  • Always hold you drink in your hand and never leave it on a surface.
  • If you can, try and drink out of a bottle and keep your thumb over the top. (Spikeys, a way of stopping your drink being spiked, can be purchased relatively cheaply if you are concerned).
  • Never accept a drink from someone you don’t know.
  • If someone offers to buy you a drink, accompany them to the bar just to be extra safe.
  • Don’t share or exchange drinks.
  • Go out with people you trust.
  • Don’t give away information, like where you live, to someone you’ve just met

If you have drunk a spiked drink you may feel drowsy or light-headed, less in control, have loss of balance, an inability to speak, feel more paranoid, experience visual or hearing problems, have periods of time that you can’t remember, be nauseous or vomit and can become unconscious. The problem is that all these symptoms can be experienced from excessive drinking so it is essential you keep track of how much you drink.

What to do if you think you’ve been spiked

If you fear that your drink has been spiked, then you must seek medical attention and get to an A&E as soon as possible. Most people can get over the ingestion of date rape drugs with a good sleep and lots of water but the combination of your medications, alcohol and a date rape drug will have a drastic effect on your body. All date rape drugs are depressants and will slow your system, competing with the alcohol that is trying to speed your system up and putting an extraordinary amount of pressure on your heart. Your MedicAlert bracelet could be useful in this situation!

Stimulant drinks

Although non-alcoholic, stimulant drinks such as Red Bull have an effect on the heart as they cause an instant rise in blood pressure and heart rate and could be detrimental to your health. We would recommend you stay away from the popular student drink of vodka and Red Bull and Jägerbombs. Be a trendsetter and find yourself a safer unique drink for you.

Illegal or non-prescription drugs

No matter what your opinion of drugs, they are illegal. However, you may encounter them at university. the choice to use drugs or not is a personal one and a decision you will ultimately make for yourself but it is important that you know recreational drugs are particularly dangerous for someone with a heart condition, especially stimulant drugs, such as speed and ecstasy, as they can cause heart irregularities. Intravenous (through a needle) drug use can give you an increased risk of endocarditis, a bacterial infection of the heart, which can be life threatening.

There are drugs called ‘legal highs’ available to buy on the internet. These have the same effects as illegal drugs but are usually new creations the government hasn’t got around to making illegal yet. They will have the same effects, as well as worse, often unknown effects, so it is just as important to avoid these as the well-known illegal drugs.

Smoking

You should be aware of the detrimental effects of smoking so it is best to make sure you never start, or if you do smoke, seek help to quit as soon as possible. Nicotine is one of the most addictive drugs around and you can become addicted after one puff so try and stay away from the smokers who may offer you one on a night out. There will always be someone not smoking you can hang around with.

Smoking can:

  • Increase your heart rate and put additional strain on it.
  • Increase blood pressure.
  • Introduce poisons into your body that increase the chance of heart attack, stroke and cancer.
  • Damage your arteries.
  • Form blood clots.

These are all risks for anyone who smokes but the risks for you are increased. Your heart is already under a lot of pressure and the mixture of nicotine, tar and your medication can have dramatic effects.

Sex

Along with alcohol, sex is another thing that is common at uni.

Sexual activity is safe if you are fit enough to climb a flight of stairs but it is important that you plan in advance.

You need to make choices about contraception to ensure that there is no risk of unplanned pregnancy or of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

For more information about your specific needs talk to your cardiologist or specialist nurse.

Whatever your choices are it is best to plan ahead, so ask the questions and find out the information before you are in the situation.

Managing medication

Most of you will have already started managing your own medication but being at university can mean you don’t have a regular schedule. You sleep later, eat meals at irregular times and generally don’t have a set day-to-day timetable.

To make sure you don’t miss your medication you can:

  • Set an alarm on your phone.
  • Use the apps wellnote or dosebox, both available for free, which are really good if you are managing a lot of pills.
  • Use a pill box (available at any pharmacy) so at a glance you can see if you have missed a dose.

Ask your specialist nurse or cardiologist at your next appointment what to do if you do miss a dose. In most cases it won’t make too much difference but it may mean you need to balance it with a different dosage the next time you take your pills.

Diet

Lots of students have a really bad diet. A combination of a low budget, lack of time and an inability to prepare nutritious meals can lead to a lot of fast food, ready meals and sugary and salty snacks. As tasty as that may sound it’s not the healthiest option.

Although it can be more expensive to eat healthily it is important you budget it into your student loan. If you don’t get the correct vitamins and nutrients in your diet you risk weakening your immune system and will have less energy and feel tired more easily.

You will have heard the NHS saying you need five portions of fruit and veg a day but it is also important that you balance the other food groups as well.

There are five main food groups and for a balanced diet you need to eat a mixture of all of them.

  • Fruit and vegetables.
  • Starch foods; bread, pasta and potatoes.
  • Protein; fish, eggs and beans.
  • Calcium; milk and dairy.
  • Foods containing sugar and fat.

Most people in Britain eat too much of the last group and not enough of the others. If you make sure your three main meals a day include the first four then having the odd sugary or fatty snack is fine.

As well as balancing what you eat it is important to monitor how much you eat. Eating is how we give our bodies energy and your body needs more than the average calorie intake as your heart is having to work harder. If you feel hungry, eat.

It is a good idea to carry snacks around in your bag. A banana or nuts are great sources of energy and may help to get you through to the end of the lecture if your energy sources start to drain.

For more information about food and diet go to www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/Goodfoodhome.aspx

 


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Places to visit for support and information

UCAS

https://digital.ucas.com/search

Unistats

Get the student view point on universities, covering a wide range of views.

https://unistats.ac.uk

The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education

www.qaa.ac.uk/reviews-and-reports

Nightline

www.nightline.ac.uk/want-to-talk

Disabled Students Allowance

https://dsa-qag.org.uk

HC1/HC2/HC3 Allowance

www.nhsbsa.nhs.uk/nhs-low-income-scheme

Personal Independence Payment

www.gov.uk/pip

Help with stress

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/reduce-stress/

MIND

www.mind.org.uk

0300 123 3393 / text 86463

Drink spiking

www.nhs.co.uk/Livewell/abuse/Pages/drink-spiking.aspx

Frank

www.talktofrank.com

0300 123 6600 / text 82111

Diet information

www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/Goodfoodhome.aspx

Your local Citizens Advice

www.citizensadvice.org.uk

03444 111 444

 

Updated: January 2018

Review due: January 2021

 

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