What can you do to avoid becoming ill?

Last updated: 17 9 2021

About Sweden – an orientation about Swedish society.

This text is about what you can do to avoid becoming ill, such as getting vaccinated and getting screened and examined regularly. It also describes what you can do if you or someone else becomes ill or gets injured, both in more serious cases and for less severe conditions that you can treat at home.

The text also talks about antibiotics and why it is important not to use antibiotics unnecessarily.

  • The right to health and medical care

    Everyone is entitled to having the best possible physical and mental health. The right to health is important in realising other rights, such as to be able to work or go to school. Other rights also have an impact on the right to health. If you have nowhere to live, for example, or if you do not have a job, it will affect your well-being.

    Everyone is also entitled to medical care. A person who is in acute need of medical care must receive it first. People who work in the medical care services have to respect the equal worth of all people. You are entitled to be received in a professional and respectful manner by medical care staff. This applies regardless of your gender, gender identity, ethnicity, language, sexuality, religion or education. But you do not have the right to demand to be treated by staff of a specific gender, ethnic background, religion or similar. 

Vaccination for children and adults

Children are offered vaccines against eleven serious illnesses. The first of these vaccines is given at the child health care centre (Barnavårdscentralen, BVC) when the child is six weeks old. BVC also vaccinates the child before they begin school. Vaccinations after that are provided by the school health care services.

If you are over 65, are pregnant, or belong to another risk group, you can get a free vaccination against seasonal flu every year.

  • Questions to think about

    Incorrect information about the risks of vaccination sometimes spread on the internet. Have you seen any incorrect information like that?

    What are your tips for checking whether you can trust information or not?

Papanicolaou (Pap) test, or cervical screening

All women between the ages of 23 and 64 are regularly invited by the health care services to have a Pap test, which involves a midwife or a doctor taking a cell sample from the cervix. The sample is taken via the vagina. The test shows if there have been any cell changes in your cervix. You would not see or feel these cell changes, and in most cases, they do not cause any problems. The changes are not dangerous in themselves, but can sometimes develop into cancer if they are not found and treated early enough. The only way to find cell changes is by taking cell samples.

A Pap test takes a few minutes. It costs nothing. It usually does not hurt and there is no risk of any damage. If you do a Pap test every time you get invited to be screened by the health care services, you will have very good protection against cervical cancer.

If you are between 23 and 49 years old, you will be invited for screening every three years. If you are between 50 and 64 you will be invited every five to seven years.

  • Questions to think about

    Do you know what an invitation to cervical screening looks like in the area where you live?

    How can you make sure you do not miss information like that?

Mammography

All women between the ages of 40 and 74 are invited for mammography, or breast X-rays, every two years. Mammography is done to discover breast cancer early. The examination is free of charge.

Things to consider if you have received sex reassignment therapy or treatment

Gender dysphoria means that a person feels that their body does not match their gender identity, and this makes them suffer. If you have gender dysphoria, you can be given sex reassignment therapy or treatment to make you feel better, and you can also change the gender specified in the population register and in your personal identity number to suit your gender identity. This is known as changing your legal gender.

If you change your legal gender, you may need to book certain preventive examinations, such as mammography and cervical screening, yourself. Contact your medical care centre for more information.

Dental care for children

Dental care is free of charge for children and young adults until the year they turn 23. Children are called to their first examination in the year they turn 3. After that, they are called every two years, unless they need more frequent examinations.

These examinations are mandatory, which means that the child's parents or guardian have to make sure that the child goes to them. If a child does not come to the examinations despite repeated calls and contact attempts, the dental care services will make a notification of concern to the municipality's social services.

Medical check-ups

Anyone applying for asylum or a residence permit in Sweden will be offered a free medical check-up at a medical care centre. The check-up is voluntary, and you are entitled to an interpreter. It includes talking to a doctor about your health, some tests, and a basic physical examination if necessary. You will also be given an explanation of your access to health and medical care and dental care in Sweden. You will be sent a letter calling you to the check-up. Take your LMA card, passport or some other ID document to with you.

  • Questions to think about

    Why do you think everyone who arrives in Sweden and applies for a residence permit is offered a free medical check-up?

Self-care

You can treat many less severe illnesses and injuries yourself. This might be a cold, fever, gastroenteritis, or minor cuts. This section has information about how you can take care of such conditions yourself.

You can contact 1177 Vårdguiden for tips about self-care. The phone number is 1177. If you call the number, you will get to speak to a nurse who can give you advice. You can call 1177 around the clock. Some regions provide advice in other languages than Swedish.

  • Questions to think about

    In Sweden, most people use self-care if they have a common cold with a fever. Was that the way it was where you lived previously?

    Or do most people there contact a doctor?

Colds and flu

Colds and flu are infections you get from a virus.

When you have a cold, you may feel tired and have a runny nose, a sore throat, or a cough. A cold can also give you a fever, though this is usually not very high.

When you have flu, it is common that you get a sudden high fever, a headache, muscle pain, a sore throat, and a cough. Flu, or influenza, viruses come to Sweden every year and are common in the winter.

Most people with a cold or flu do not need to contact the medical care services, since these infections usually pass by themselves. Antibiotics do not help against viruses like colds or flu.

There are many things you can do feel better. Rest is good. Drink plenty of water if you have a fever, as the fever will make you sweat more. If you ache a lot or have a high fever, you can take non-prescription drugs, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.

Colds and flu are very contagious. To avoid infecting others, it is important that you wash your hands frequently and cough or sneeze into your inner elbow.

You can always contact 1177 Vårdguiden if you want advice and help in assessing your symptoms.

Fever

Having a fever means your body temperature is higher than 38 degrees Celsius. You can get a fever for different reasons – a cold is one example. Most often the fever passes by itself, and you do not need to contact the medical care services.

When you have a fever, you may feel weak and a little dizzy. Usually, you will feel cold when your body temperature rises and sweat when it drops again. You can take your temperature with a thermometer in your mouth, your rectum, your armpit, your ear, or on your forehead. Follow the instructions for the thermometer you are using.

You should stay home from work or school when you have a fever to let your body rest. Do not exercise.

Gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis usually comes on quickly. You vomit, have diarrhoea, and feel unwell. It can make you feel very ill, but usually your condition will improve within a few days. Rest and plenty of liquids are important in order to avoid becoming dehydrated.

Stay home from work or school if have gastroenteritis so that you do not infect others. Wash your hands frequently. Stay at home for 48 hours after the last time you vomited or had diarrhoea.

First aid

First aid is about saving lives or helping someone who has been injured, with a cut or minor burn for example.

Life-saving first aid might be administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or opening the airways of someone who is suffocating.

Always call 112 in emergency situations or if someone is unconscious.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)

Cardiopulomnary resuscitation is a manual method for restoring the heartbeat and breathing of a person in cardiac arrest. Before beginning to administer CPR, you have to check whether the person is conscious and breathing. If the person is unconscious and not breathing, you have to call 112 and then begin CPR. The 112 operator can give you advice on how to administer CPR.

The CPR procedure involves pressing down hard on the chest of the unconscious person 30 times and then blowing air into their mouth twice. This procedure is repeated until an ambulance arrives.

External defibrillators are available in many locations. They are devices that give an electric shock to someone in cardiac arrest in order to restore the heartbeat. Anyone can use an external defibrillator – you do not have to have medical training to use one.

Note that this advice applies to CPR on adults. CPR is not done in the same way on children. The Swedish Resuscitation Council (HLR-rådet) has a website with more information about CPR and videos of how to administer CPR on adults as well as children of different ages.

A person carrying out cardiopulmonary resuscitation on another person lying down.

In order to feel confident about administering CPR, you need to practise. There are courses you can attend. The Swedish Resuscitation Council's website lists where these are given.

Choking

If something gets stuck in a person's throat, you have to try to remove it. You have to continue trying to remove it even if the person becomes unconscious. If the person becomes unconscious, you have to call 112 and begin CPR.

The simplest way of removing something from your throat is to cough. If the person is coughing, you should therefore urge them to keep coughing. But if the person is unable to cough, you have to help them straight away. You do this by giving them back blows or abdominal thrusts.

Burns

Burns are injuries you can get from boiling water, for example, or by touching something hot on the cooker. If you get a burn, you can alleviate the pain by immediately running cool water over the injured skin. Do not do this for more than 15 minutes. A superficial burn usually heals by itself, but if you get a severe burn, you need to get medical care in a hospital.

Medicines

Medicines are bought from a pharmacy. Some medicines are only available on prescription. This means that a doctor must decide you need to take them. This is the case with antibiotics, which you may need to take if you have an infection that is caused by bacteria, for example tonsillitis or pneumonia. The doctor writes you a prescription and you can them buy the medicine at a pharmacy.

The people who work in the pharmacy also know a lot about various diseases and medicines. They can answer many of your questions. You can also obtain information and brochures about various diseases at a pharmacy.

If you are over 18, you can also buy non-prescription medicines such as painkillers in grocery stores.

If you have questions about your medication, you can contact Läkemedelsupplysningen, where you can get answers to questions about how the medication works, how to take it and store it. Phone Läkemedelsupplysningen on 0771-46 70 10.

Antibiotic resistance

Antibiotics are one of the most important medications available to the medical care services. But care services in Sweden and the rest of the world have used antibiotics too much, and sometimes in the wrong way. This has led some antibiotics to stop having an effect on some bacteria. Such bacteria are often described as having antibiotic resistance. If bacteria continue to become ever more resistant to antibiotics, this might mean that common diseases such as pneumonia will become impossible to cure with antibiotics.

The body's own immune defence system can fight many illnesses and infections caused by bacteria. A doctor will determine whether you need antibiotics or not. If you use antibiotics often, your immune defence system will become weaker. It is important, therefore, that you only use antibiotics when you really need them.

Antibiotics cannot cure common viral illnesses, such as colds, gastroenteritis, flu, and chickenpox. The body's own immune defence system has to deal with those. Vaccines are often available for more serious viral diseases.

You can help in preventing the spread of bacterial infections and in reducing antibiotic resistance by:

  • Washing your hands frequently.
  • Opting to get the vaccinations offered to you by the medical care services. That way you will reduce the risk of becoming ill and needing antibiotics.
  • Only using antibiotics when necessary.
  • Never using antibiotics left over from an earlier course of antibiotics and never giving away antibiotics to someone else. This also applies to antibiotics for animals.
  • Returning antibiotics you have not used to a pharmacy and never throwing them in the rubbish or the toilet. If you do, they end up in the natural environment, which may make bacteria resistant faster.