HealthyLife® Students' Self-Care Guide

Table of Contents

 Section I–Common Health Problems Caution

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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!”

Mark 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 frequently

Feel inadequate and have 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 include:

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?

Yes. See Provider.



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.}

Yes. See Provider.



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 gain

  • 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

Yes. See Provider.



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

Yes. See Provider.



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 extremities

  • Muscle spasms

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

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

Yes. See Provider.



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 month

  • Skin rash after being in the sun

  • Pain for more than 2 days when taking deep breaths

Yes. See Provider.



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

Yes. See Provider.


With fatigue, do you have other signs and symptoms of depression? Yes. See Provider.



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

Yes. See Provider.



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 activities.

  • The fatigue started after taking medicine.

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

  • Pregnancy is a possibility.

Yes. See Provider.


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



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

February 19, 2004

©2003, 4th edition. American Institute for Preventive Medicine All rights reserved.