Adolescent medicine involves understanding the unique medical and behavioral issues associated with this patient population, and may include preventive, acute, and chronic care of these individuals.
Problems typically encountered include abnormalities in growth and development, vision and hearing disorders, learning disabilities, musculoskeletal problems (often sports related), allergies, acne, eating disorders, substance abuse, psychosocial adjustment problems, sexually transmitted diseases, contraception and pregnancy, and sexual identity concerns. In addition, adolescent medicine emphasizes the management of chronic diseases that begin in childhood and continue into adulthood, such as diabetes, asthma, cystic fibrosis, congenital heart disease, and inflammatory bowel diseases.
Generally, we recognize adolescence as the period following the onset of puberty but prior to completion of maturity. Although there is no consensus about when adolescence begins and ends, it is typically thought to begin about the time that individuals begin to show obvious signs sexual development typically by the age of 12 for both boys and girls. It is thought to end by about the age of 20 after individuals have officially ended the “teen” years. However, because the developmental tasks of adolescence are closely tied to the complexity of the cultures and societies in which they live, the age of maturity can vary dramatically based on where and in what time period someone grows up. Western societies understand adolescence in broader terms that encompass psychological, social, and moral terrain as well as the strictly physical aspects of maturation.