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Section I–Common Health Problems - Fatigue

HealthyLife® Students' Self-Care Guide

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 Section I–Common Health Problems

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“I read on a
bulletin board that the average college student, left in a dark room, will
fall asleep within 10 minutes. I bet I could beat that time by half!”

E., Syracuse University

Being tired due to a busy schedule and lack
of sleep is normal. Being fatigued, on the other hand, could be a symptom of
a health condition.

Signs & Symptoms

Fatigue is being more than tired. With
fatigue, you:

Feel drained of energy
and have
a very hard time doing normal
activities and school work

Have low motivation and may miss classes

Feel inadequate and
little desire for sex


Lack of sleep for long periods of time

Burnout and stress

Crash dieting and eating poorly

Side effects from allergies

Health conditions that lead to fatigue

Alcohol or drug abuse


Autoimmune disorders, including thyroid disease,
diabetes, and lupus (the systemic type)

Chronic fatigue syndrome. The fatigue lasts at
least 6 months.




Mononucleosis (“Mono”)

A common cause of fatigue in students is infectious mononucleosis,
an acute viral disease.

Signs & Symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen lymph gland in the neck area
  • Pain in the upper left abdominal area

Symptoms usually last several weeks.


Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). This is spread from person to person
through contact with saliva from a person recently infected with the
disease. The saliva can be picked up from hand-to-hand contact,
sharing eating utensils, and kissing, which is why “Mono” is called
the “kissing disease.” Symptoms usually appear about 4 to 6 weeks
after exposure.


Rest is the mainstay of treatment. Avoiding heavy lifting and
contact sports is needed, because there is a risk of rupturing the
spleen with “Mono.”

Questions to Ask

With debilitating fatigue, do you have
signs and symptoms of mononucleosis
listed above


With fatigue, do you also have these
signs and symptoms of hepatitis

  • The whites of your eyes and/or skin
    look yellow (jaundice).

  • Dark urine

  • Vomiting and nausea

  • Loss of weight or appetite

  • Pain in the abdomen

  • Fever

  • Stools that are pale and clay-colored

    {Note: With some forms of
    hepatitis, no symptoms are present.}


With fatigue and weakness, do you have
any of the following signs of diabetes?

  • Constant urination

  • Abnormally increased thirst and
    increased hunger

  • Rapid weight loss or excessive weight

  • Extreme irritability

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Drowsiness

  • Itching and/or skin infections that
    don’t clear up easily

  • Tingling, numbness, or pain in the
    arms and legs

  • Blurred vision


With fatigue, do you have signs and
symptoms of hypothyroidism

  • Hair loss and dry, thick, flaky skin

  • Decreased tolerance to cold
    temperatures and numbness or tingling in the hands

  • Unexplained weight gain

  • Constipation

  • Sleepiness; feeling mentally sluggish

  • For females, longer and heavier
    menstrual periods


With fatigue, do you have other signs
and symptoms of multiple sclerosis

  • Blurred vision, double vision, or the
    loss of vision in one eye

  • Bladder problems (frequent urination,
    urgency, infection, as well as incontinence)

  • Feelings of pins and needles in the

  • Muscle spasms

  • Poor coordination (trembling of the
    hand, for example)

  • Emotional mood swings, irritability,
    depression, anxiety, euphoria


With fatigue, do you have
any of
these signs and symptoms of lupus?

  • Joint pain for more than 3 months

  • Fingers that get pale, numb, or
    uncomfortable in the cold

  • Mouth sores for more than 2 weeks

  • Low blood counts from anemia, low
    white-cell count, or low platelet count

  • A rash on your cheeks for more than 1

  • Skin rash after being in the sun

  • Pain for more than 2 days when taking
    deep breaths


With fatigue and weakness, do you have
signs and symptoms of anemia?

  • Shortness of breath with exertion

  • Paleness of the skin or paleness
    around the gums, nail beds, and/or linings of the lower eyelids

  • Headache

With fatigue, do you have
other signs and symptoms of depression?


With debilitating fatigue, do you have
signs and symptoms of fibromyalgia?

  • Muscle pain for more than 2 weeks

  • Flu-like symptoms. (See  “Signs & Symptoms
    for "Flu").

  • Insomnia

  • Mental fogginess

  • Headache


Are any of the following conditions
associated with the fatigue?

  • It occurred for no apparent reason,
    lasted for more than 2 weeks, and has kept you from doing your usual

  • The fatigue started after taking

  • For a female, the fatigue hits hard
    right before or after each monthly menstrual period.

  • Pregnancy is a possibility.

With fatigue that comes on suddenly,
do you have signs and symptoms of the flu?



Be organized. Use a daily/weekly/monthly
planner to keep abreast of everything you need to do. Prioritize daily
tasks, semester goals, etc. Make sure to plan time for exercise, eating,
recreation, and sleep. Contact your student Mental Health Services or your
academic counselor if you need help or feel overwhelmed.

Take only the number of semester credits
you can handle.

Don’t overextend yourself in
extracurricular activities.

Eat well. Eating too much and “crash
dieting” are both hard on your body. Don’t skip breakfast. Limit high-fat
and/or rich, sugary snacks. Eat whole-grain breads and cereals and raw
fruits and vegetables. Keep healthy snacks or meal replacement bars in
your backpack to eat when you don’t have time to have a meal.

Get regular physical exercise. Use your
school’s fitness facilities and/or participate in organized sports, etc.

Do something for yourself. Do things that
also meet your needs, not just those of others.

Avoid too much caffeine and alcohol. Don’t
abuse drugs. Don’t use over-the-counter diet pills and stay awake pills
(e.g., No-Doz). Repeated use of these can make you anxious, jittery, and
unable to sleep.

If fatigue is due to a medical condition,
follow your health care provider’s guidelines regarding rest, diet,
medication, etc.

Set up good sleep habits

6th edition. American Institute for Preventive Medicine
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December 08, 2005