Health Services - Common Issues | Fitchburg State University
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Common Issues

An optoscopeThe following are some issues university students commonly face. Visit each subject for more information and links to helpful sites.

Exercise and Fitness

Exercise is fun, inexpensive and good for you. Benefits of exercise include:

  • Better sleep
  • More energy
  • Stress management
  • Burning calories
  • Releasing endorphins that give you a "natural high"

Exercising doesn't have to be a drag. Mix it up and make it enjoyable.

  • Go outside.
  • Exercise with a group.
  • Join intramurals (contact the Rec Center at ext. 3683 for more information).
  • Listen to music while exercising.
  • Try something new (rock climbing, swimming, dancing, etc.).
  • Set short-term goals. Successfully reaching your goals is a great confidence booster.
  • Remember that every little bit counts. Exercise doesn't have to be strenuous for you to benefit from it.

Walking is a great form of exercise.

Walking tips:

  • Start low and go slow. If you haven't been very active lately, start with a 15 minute walk each day and slowly increase the time at a comfortable rate.
  • Walk with a friend or bring some music to listen to.
  • Drink enough water.
  • Wear comfortable clothes and shoes.
  • Use sunscreen if you're walking outside.
  • Practice good posture. Stand up straight and tighten your stomach to support your back and work your abdominal muscles.

Make working out something you want to do, not something you feel you have to do. If you have fun, you're more likely to continue to incorporate exercise into your daily routine.


Signs and symptoms of the flu include:

  • Fever (101 degrees or above)
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Muscle aches
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Runny/stuffy nose
  • Headache
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea)

More information on the flu can be found at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Tips to avoid getting the flu:

  • Get your yearly flu vaccination.
  • Wash your hands frequently (before eating, after using the bathroom, after coughing, etc.).
  • Avoid close contact with those who are sick. When you are sick, try to stand at least 3 feet away from other people.
  • Cough or sneeze into your sleeve to prevent contamination of your surroundings.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. All are portals of entry for viruses and bacteria.
  • Eat a healthy balanced diet and get 6-8 hours of sleep a night.

If you have the flu, some things you can do for yourself include:

  • Rest, go home if possible, and return after you've been fever-free without medication (Tylenol or ibuprofen) for at least 24 hours.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Take Tylenol or ibuprofen for fever and discomfort. Follow the package directions for appropriate administration.
  • Use decongestants for a stuffy nose. Follow the package directions for appropriate administration.
  • Avoid smoke and alcohol.



A sprain is an injury to a ligament, which connects bone to bone. Sprains can range from mild to severe. Some signs and symptoms of a sprain include:

  • Pain
  • Bruising
  • Inflammation
  • Decreased range of motion


A strain is a pulling or tearing of a muscle or the tendon that connects a muscle to the bone. Strains also range from mild to severe. Some signs and symptoms of a strain include:

  • Pain
  • Inflammation
  • Muscle spasms or cramping
  • Muscle weakness or loss of function

Self-care for these types of injuries can be remembered by using the RICE acronym.

R - Rest the injured area for 48-72 hours.

I - Ice the injury for twenty minutes every couple of hours. Use a thin towel or something between the ice and your skin to prevent tissue damage.

C - Compress the area using wraps or ACE bandages. Make it tight enough to keep the swelling down but loose enough to allow adequate circulation. Loosen it if there is swelling or numbness below the wrap.

E - Elevate the injured area above your heart to further reduce swelling.

Some preventative measures you can take to avoid injuries are as follows:

  • Warm-up, cool-down and stretch properly with each workout.
  • Avoid exercising when fatigued or in pain.
  • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet and drink plenty of water.
  • Wear the proper equipment.
  • Be in good physical condition for the activity you're doing and the intensity you're working at.


There is a wide range of things that cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Some of the more common ones are the stomach "bug" (usually viral), food poisoning (usually bacterial), drinking too much alcohol, some medications and emotions.

The main concern when it comes to nausea and persistent vomiting and diarrhea is dehydration and electrolyte imbalance.

Signs and symptoms of dehydration and electrolyte imbalance include the following:

  • Thirst or dry mouth
  • Dark or decreased amount of urine
  • Increased pulse rate
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle weakness or twitching


For the first 3-4 hours after vomiting ends, you need to give your stomach a rest. Do not eat solid foods. An hour or so after vomiting has ceased, you can begin with small sips of water every 10 minutes. You can also try sips of flat soda (stir to release the carbonation), diluted Gatorade, or tea with sugar. Don't try to drink in gulps because you will restart the vomiting. Continue with clear fluids for the next 24 hours. If the vomiting returns, you can begin with sips again.

On day 2, you can slowly add small amounts of easily digestible foods such as dry toast, dry cereal, crackers, or chicken soup. On day 3, you can slowly advance to eating "regular" foods.

Nausea and Diarrhea

You should follow the recommendations stated above to treat nausea and diarrhea, however, avoid fruit juices. You can substitute applesauce or bananas. You should avoid milk products until day 3.

Chartwells offers "Sick Trays"

If you are too sick to come to Chartwells, a tray can be brought to your room by a friend. You need to send your friend with your OneCard and a note from Health Services or your RA and a tray will be provided for you.

Nutrition and Weight

Adequate nutrition is key to good health. Along with exercise and sleep, healthy eating helps you look and feel better, gives you more energy and helps you feel more rested. Fueling your body with the right foods is vital if you want to feel your best and work with maximum efficiency.

Each person's nutritional requirements are different depending on age, sex and daily activity. To get a better idea of your nutritional requirements, visit Choose My Plate.

For those who are trying to lose weight, here are some tips and things to look out for.

  • Pay attention to portions. The problem might not be what you eat, but how much you eat. A low-calorie food can add up quickly if multiple servings are eaten. 
  • Avoid fad diets and diets that promise quick weight loss. Weight loss that is healthy and stays off is done slowly.
  • It's a red flag if a nutrition plan eliminates a food group or labels it as "bad." Nothing should be completely off-limits if eaten in moderation and in congruence with any health issues you may have.
  • Severe calorie restriction is unhealthy and can actually slow down your metabolism. Other effects include fatigue, difficulty concentrating, frequent colds or infections, and bone thinning.
  • Poor nutrition choices can have short and long-term effects on health, including dehydration, lack of essential nutrients (ones your body cannot make on its own) and changes in metabolism.
  • Exercise is an essential part of weight maintenance or loss. Muscle burns more calories and takes up less space than fat.
  • Try to make small changes you can stick to and gradually add on more.

Sexual Health

Consent is Sexy

Contraception (all available at Health Services)

Female reproductive health

Male reproductive health

Sexually transmitted diseases/infections (testing is available at Health Services)

For more information on sexual health, contraception and STD/STIs visit these websites:


There are many reasons to get enough sleep. It is the time that your body needs to rest and recuperate. Benefits of adequate sleep include your ability to:

  • Feel and look healthier
  • Think more clearly
  • Increase your alertness and coordination
  • Study longer and retain more information
  • Decrease the chance of accidents

Try to incorporate some of the following tips into your life to improve your "sleep hygiene":

  • Get up and go to bed at the same time each day.
  • Exercise daily but avoid exercising too close to bedtime.
  • Have a sleep routine (relaxing music, light reading, shower) to signal to your body it's time to sleep soon.
  • Use your bed for sleep. Avoid watching tv, reading, etc. in bed so your body associates your bed with sleep. Sex is the only exception.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine before bed.
  • Relax your mind. Take half an hour of "worry time" sometime before you lay down so your mind isn't racing while you're trying to sleep.

How much sleep do you need? The average is 8 hours per night but it varies with each person. Listen to your body. The following are some signs you may need more sleep:

  • Exhaustion, fatigue or lack of physical energy
  • Irritability, sadness, stress or anger
  • Inability to concentrate or handle normal stress
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Frequent colds or infections.

Should you see a healthcare provider?

If you have trouble sleeping most nights, it's worth considering seeing a medical professional. There are conditions that affect sleep which a provider may be able to treat you for. Read more about sleep disorders.

Learn more about sleep from the National Sleep Foundation.


Everyone faces stress at some point. There is no way to avoid it completely. Mild stress that motivates you is good but prolonged high-level stress can make you sick. Unhealthy stress can have physical and psychological effects.

Do you have too much stress in your life? Do you:

  • Have difficulty falling asleep
  • Get sick more frequently than others
  • Have trouble focusing
  • Feel anxious
  • Use alcohol or drugs to handle the stress

What you can do:

  • Review your schedule and decide what you can change or eliminate
  • Identify what is most important to you
  • Get daily exercise, it is a great stress reliever
  • Decrease or eliminate your coffee and sugar intake.
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Schedule 6-8 hours of sleep a night
  • Avoid alcohol or drugs
  • Make time for yourself, listen to music, read, visit friends

If you want to discuss your situation with a Health Services or Counseling Services professional, feel free to call for a confidential appointment.

A doctor with a stethoscope holding a clipboard

Health Services - 978.665.3216
Counseling Services - 978.665.3152

If you want to learn more about stress, anxiety, depression and other issues, visit Help Guide - Mental Health Issues.

 Urinary Tract Infection (UTIs)

A Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) is one of the most common occurring infections in the human body. A UTI can affect any part of the urinary tract, from the urethra to the kidneys. Some people are more prone to UTIs including:

  • Women
  • Men with enlarged prostates
  • Diabetics
  • Those with conditions that weaken the immune system
  • Those with congenital anomalies of the urinary system

Prevention is the best treatment. Listed below are some key things you can do to keep your urinary tract in optimal condition:

  • Drink plenty of water (eight 8-oz. glasses per day) and urinate frequently. Filling and completely emptying the bladder flushes out bacteria before it has a chance to create an infection.
  • Wipe from front to back after using the bathroom to avoid transferring bacteria from the anus to the urethra.
  • Wash the genital area daily with mild soap and dry thoroughly. Avoid douches, strong soaps and deodorants which can irritate the area.
  • Urinate as soon as possible after sexual intercourse to flush out bacteria that may have entered the urethra.
  • Avoid internal urinary tract irritants such as alcohol, caffeine and spicy foods.
  • Drink 100% cranberry juice (not a "juice cocktail"). It doesn't cure UTIs but it may make the urine and bladder less hospitable to bacteria.

Signs and Symptoms of a lower UTI include:

  • A strong and frequent need to urinate
  • A burning sensation on urination
  • Pain in lower belly or back
  • Cloudy, bloody and/or foul smelling urine

If left untreated, a UTI can progress upward and develop into a kidney infection. Signs and symptoms of a kidney infection include (in addition to the UTI symptoms listed above):

  • Back or flank pain around the level of the lower ribs, usually one-sided
  • Fever and chills
  • Nausea

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, call Health Services at 978.665.3216 for an appointment. Your urine will be evaluated and medication will be prescribed if needed. Remember that everyone's body is different and one person may experience all the symptoms while someone else may only experience a few. It is important to catch and treat an infection early to prevent its progression.

For more information, visit this site about Urinary Tract Infections.

Chicken Pox

Most students have been vaccinated against chicken pox. The University and state require two doses of the chicken pox (Varicella) vaccine for all full-time students.

Signs and Symptoms

The classic symptom of chicken pox is a rash that turns into itchy, fluid-filled blisters that eventually turn into scabs. The rash may first appear on the face, chest and back and then spread to the rest of the body, including inside the mouth, eyelids or genital area.  It usually takes about a week for all the blisters to become scabs. Other typical symptoms that may begin to appear 1-2 days before the rash include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headache

Mode of Transmission

The disease spreads mainly by touching or breathing in the virus particles that come from chicken pox blisters and by tiny droplets that are spread by coughing or sneezing. 

When is a person contagious?

Someone with chicken pox can spread the infection from 1-2 days before they develop the rash until all of their chicken pox blisters have formed scabs (usually 5-7 days). It takes about two weeks (10-21 days) after exposure to a person with chicken pox for someone else to develop chickenpox.

If you have any of the following conditions and believe you have chicken pox, you need to contact your primary care provider:

  • Pregnant
  • Weakened immune system caused by disease or medications (for example, if you have had a transplant, on immunosuppressive drugs or long term use of steroids)

Should you present with any chicken pox symptoms, we recommend that you consult your primary care provider or call Student Health Services at 978.665.3643. If you develop any of these signs and symptoms, you will be excluded from class. Students must have a note from a health care provider stating they are non-communicable in order to return to class. You may return to school when all scabs are dry, which is usually within 5 to 7 days.

If you have not been vaccinated, you can obtain the vaccine at most pharmacies. It is a very safe and effective vaccine.