Why are College Students Susceptible to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

CHRONIC FATIGUE SYNDROME SYMPTOMS

Chronic fatigue syndrome has bewildered medical experts for over 20 years. It was originally linked to Epstein-Barr infections (which cause Acute Mononucleosis) and has since been maligned and repudiated as the cause of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Out of all adults, it is college students (who were previously healthy) that are most susceptible to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Why is this?

Here at Mitchell Medical Group, we have seen more than our fair share of college students who have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and in our experience, the symptoms of chronic fatigue can cause it to present differently in college students than in older adult patients.

chronic fatigue syndrome

STUDENTS AWAY FROM HOME

When college students move away to college, for most of them it is their first time away from both their parents and their homes. Although this newfound independence can be exciting, it often comes at the cost of being away from their support system. Even the most conscientious students, who think they are “handling” it all, can be vulnerable to poor health decisions.

SLEEP IS IMPORTANT

Sleep is a huge factor in the development of and recovery from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. For some reason, college students think staying up all night for exams or parties won’t have an impact on their energy. The college culture of endless nights and variable class schedules can throw the body’s natural rhythm off and essentially make the body feel like it is jet-lagged all the time.

College students battling Chronic Fatigue should rigorously stick to a sleep schedule as best they can. This means getting up the same time each week morning, and going to bed at a reasonable hour. When treating college students, we do give them a weekend pass for a late night and a morning of sleeping in, but this is just for one night, not the whole weekend.

DIET PLAYS A PART

Diet also plays a role in Chronic Fatigue. Traditionally, college students don’t have the healthiest diet. When you are young and healthy you can get away with eating a lot of fast food and drinking alcohol. However, as we age these habits catch up with us.

When treating college students who are suffering from Chronic Fatigue, we always try to educate them on the importance of eating good quality food and developing regular eating habits for a faster recovery from the illness. A diet of beer and pizza just isn’t going to work. Once Chronic Fatigue has set in, eating high quality fruits and vegetables, as well as lean protein is very important because eating these foods allow the body to recuperate.

In our experience, the hardest part of treating students is trying to get them to avoid excessive alcohol consumption. Drinking alcohol is such an omnipresent part of college life. However, we make sure our patients realize that their full recovery is dependent on allowing their body to heal. This means giving the liver (a vital detoxifying organ) the chance to become strong, following a strict diet for chronic fatigue, and allowing these changes to help the body recover.

STRESS AND ANXIETY

Another factor in student life is stress and anxiety. These two factors are particularly strong around exam time and they are also a major player in triggering a full blown Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Once Chronic Fatigue sets in, a student’s anxiety about when they will or will not recover becomes a significant stressor.

Today’s college students are so busy on the Internet and texting on their cell phones, they are completely unaware of the healing interaction of the human voice. We strongly encourage these students to speak frequently to their parents and friends from their hometown to relax and de-stress. As Helen Keller once said, “Of all the senses I am missing, the one I miss most is the voice of a comforting friend.”

INFECTIONS

Finally, infections are a serious concern among college students. Students live in close quarters and infections can move easily throughout a dorm or campus. Students really should get the key vaccinations to prevent illnesses such as meningitis and pertussis (two serious yet preventable diseases). Mononucleosis (mono) due to the Epstein-Barr virus is still a prevalent problem in college campuses. However, a very real concern is that if a college student gets sick with mono or even Bronchitis and they haven’t been getting enough rest or don’t have a good diet, then they won’t be able to keep up with the rigors of college life.

Speaking personally, our son came down with mononucleosis in college last year. To recover, we gave him strict orders to get adequate rest and eat good food (chicken soup goes a long way).

The moral of the story is that, for chronic fatigue, good sleeping patterns and a good diet go a long way to preventing and recovering from this syndrome.

- Dr. Dean Mitchell
Mitchell Medical Group, NYC

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