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  • Appetite and Eating Problems
  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Sexual Issues
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Skin Problems
  • Sleep Problems

Symptoms are problems that bother you. Persons with serious illnesses often have symptoms. Some they have had symptoms for a long time and others may be new. As a general rule, new symptoms should be discussed with a health care practitioner as soon as possible.

The list of symptoms listed alphabetically above occur commonly in persons with serious illnesses. Some, like sexual issues, and sleep problems occur early in an illness, whereas confusion is usually a much later problem. Nausea, eating problems, and diarrhea frequently accompany treatments for cancer. Always think of medications as being a possible cause of symptoms.

Appetite and Eating Problems

Your appetite may decrease because of medications, pain or discomfort, nausea and/or vomiting, mouth sores, dry mouth, difficulty swallowing, altered taste, constipation or diarrhea, and depression. Whenever possible, your primary care practitioner will try to treat the cause.

Things you can do when the cause can not be eliminated:

If you are having difficulty swallowing you should:


Most often confusion is caused by medications or the late stages of a serious illness. Occasionally, it may come on suddenly--in that case, infection, heart or lung trouble may be the cause. Whatever the cause it is important to treat confusion when it is unexpected and to make sure that the confused person does not hurt him or herself.

Management of confusion:


Persons who say they are "constipated" are bothered most by straining and hard bowel movements. "Regularity" may be twice-daily bowel movements for some or two bowel movements a week for others.

Who Has Constipation?

Many persons worry that if they only have a few bowel movements a week, they are "constipated". However, 15% of persons who otherwise never feel constipated, have two or few bowel movements a week. Ask yourself these questions to decide if you are really constipated. Do you have difficulty passing stools? Are they usually hard? Do you have difficulty emptying? Is there pain? Are there other problems such as bleeding?

Unless these are regular symptoms for you, you are probably not constipated. If you are constipated, you can improve your condition without resorting to harsh treatments.

What Causes Constipation?

Doctors do not always know what causes constipation. But a person who eats a poor diet, drinks too little fluid, or misuses laxatives can easily become constipated.


If you suddenly become constipated, you should contact your doctor. If, on the other hand, you have had difficulty for a long time you should try the two approaches known to reduce straining and hard bowel movements: fiber in the diet and bulk laxatives.

If the above treatments do not work, try adding other bulk laxatives such as psyllium (Metamucil).

Above all, do not expect to have a bowel movement every day or even every other day. "Regularity" differs from person to person. If your bowel movements are usually painless and occur regularly (whether the pattern is three times a day or three times each week), then you are probably not constipated.


A person who has two or more loose or watery bowel movements a day has diarrhea. Diarrhea that last more than a few days can cause weakness, weight loss, skin soreness and poor nutrition.

Causes of diarrhea lasting more than a few days

Things you can do when the cause cannot be eliminated:


Tiredness or fatigue can be mild or complete---"feeling all worn out".

Fatigue and tiredness may be caused by:

Eliminating the causes of your fatigue may not be possible, but there are things you can do.
Things you can do when the cause cannot be eliminated:

You should call your health carepractitioner or a visiting nurse if you are not able to dress, move, bathe or go to the bathroom without getting tired.

Nausea and Vomiting

Some causes for several days of nausea and vomiting are:

Causes for new nausea and vomiting that lasts for several days should be checked by your primary care practitioner.

Things you can do when the cause can not be eliminated:

Sexual Issues

The loss of sexual intimacy may result in feelings of loss, loneliness, and uselessness. Medications and illness may make sex unappealing or uninteresting.

Things to do:

Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath is usually very bothersome. It has many causes.

Things you can do when the cause cannot be eliminated:

Skin Problems

Some of the common problems are:

Things you and your caregiver can do:

Sleep Problems

There are many reasons why people may have problems sleeping such as pain, medication side-effects, difficulty breathing or worrying about your condition. Sleeping problems range from difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep to waking up too early in the morning. If you don't get a good night's sleep, you may become irritable, unable to concentrate, and tired.

Managing Sleep Problems

If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, try some of the following suggestions:

If you still have difficulty, try these "tricks:" Try not to worry about your sleep. Some persons find that playing mental games is helpful. For example, think black, a black cat on a black velvet pillow on a black corduroy sofa, etc.; or tell yourself it's five minutes before you have to get up and you're just trying to get a few extra winks. A warm bath with a drink of warm milk or herb tea may help. However, beverages taken before bedtime may increase the need to go to the toilet. Several studies show that exposure to very bright light for one hour during the morning will help sleep by resetting "REM" patterns closer to normal.

Should I Use Medications?

Sleep medicines you can buy without a prescription usually contain antihistamines. These medicines are generally not harmful if used only a few times a year, but they can make you drowsy and more likely to have accidents the next day.

Prescription sleep medicines are often habit forming and may build up in your body.

You need to talk to a doctor about any medications you are using for sleep.

Special Treatments

We have tried to make the How's Your Health error-free. However, those involved in its preparation can not warrant that all of the information is accurate and complete. When you use How's Your Health as a guide for your health and medical care, be sure to discuss any questions about it with your doctor, nurse, or other health care worker.