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Definition

What is mononucleosis (mono)?

Mononucleosis, also called “mono,” is a common illness that can leave you feeling tired and weak for weeks or months. Mono goes away on its own, but lots of rest and good self-care can help you feel better.

This condition is also called the kissing disease. The virus that causes mono is transmitted through saliva, so you can get it through kissing, but you can also be exposed through a cough or sneeze, or by sharing a glass or food utensils with someone who has mono. However, mononucleosis isn’t as contagious as some infections, such as the common cold.

How common is mononucleosis (mono)?

Mononucleosis (mono) is extremely common. It can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of mononucleosis (mono)?

The common symptoms of mononucleosis (mono) are:

  • Fatigue;
  • Sore throat, perhaps a strep throat that doesn’t get better with antibiotic use;
  • Fever;
  • Swollen lymph nodes in your neck and armpits;
  • Swollen tonsils;
  • Headache;
  • Skin rash;
  • Soft, swollen spleen.

The virus has an incubation period of approximately four to six weeks, although in young children this period may be shorter. Signs and symptoms such as a fever and sore throat usually lessen within a couple of weeks, but fatigue, enlarged lymph nodes and a swollen spleen may last for a few weeks longer.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • You have severe pain in the upper left part of your abdomen. This may mean that your spleen has ruptured. Rupture of an enlarged spleen caused by mono is rare. It is most likely to happen because of a blow to the abdomen.
  • Your tonsils become so swollen that you find it difficult to breathe or swallow.
  • You have not been diagnosed with mono and you have a severe sore throat that has lasted longer than 2 to 3 days after trying home treatment.
  • You have not been diagnosed with mono and have tried home treatment for 7 to 10 days, and you experience a lack of energy, body aches and/ or swollen lymph nodes (sometimes called swollen glands).

Causes

What causes mononucleosis (mono)?

Mono is usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). It is most often seen in teens and young adults. Children can get the virus, but it often goes unnoticed because their symptoms are mild. Older adults usually don’t get mono, because they have immunity to the virus.

Mono can be spread through contact with saliva, mucus from the nose and throat, and sometimes tears. If you have mono, you can avoid passing the virus to others by not kissing anyone and not sharing things like drinking glasses, eating utensils, or toothbrushes.

As soon as you get over mono, your symptoms will go away for good, but you will always carry the virus that caused it. The virus may become active from time to time without causing any symptoms. When the virus is active, it can be spread to others. Almost everyone has been infected with the mono virus by adulthood.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for mononucleosis (mono)?

There are many risk factors for mononucleosis (mono), such as:

  • Age 15 to 24, especially if you are in close contact with many people.
  • Have intimate contact with a person who has mono or an active EBV infection.
  • Share drinking glasses, eating utensils, dishes, or a toothbrush with an infected person.

After you have been infected with EBV, the virus may stay in your body for the rest of your life. But you will not get mono again.

EBV is not spread through the air. You can live with a person who has mono and never become infected with the virus.

Most people have been infected with EBV before, so they usually don’t get mono when they are exposed to a person who has it.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is mononucleosis (mono) diagnosed?

Physical exam. Your doctor may suspect mononucleosis based on your signs and symptoms, how long they’ve lasted and a physical examination. He or she will look for signs like swollen lymph nodes, tonsils, liver or spleen, and consider how these signs relate to the symptoms you describe.

Blood tests:

  • Antibody tests. If there’s a need for additional confirmation, a mono spot test may be done to check your blood for antibodies to the Epstein-Barr virus. This screening test gives results within a day. But it may not detect the infection during the first week of the illness. A different antibody test requires a longer result time but can detect the disease even within the first week of symptoms.
  • White blood cell count. Your doctor may use other blood tests to look for an elevated number of white blood cells (lymphocytes) or abnormal-looking lymphocytes. These blood tests won’t confirm mononucleosis, but they may suggest it as a possibility.

How is mononucleosis (mono) treated?

There’s no specific therapy available to treat infectious mononucleosis. Antibiotics don’t work against viral infections such as mono. Treatment mainly involves bed rest, good nutrition, and drinking plenty of fluids.

  • Treating secondary infections. Occasionally, a streptococcal (strep) infection accompanies the sore throat of mononucleosis. You may also develop a sinus infection or an infection of your tonsils (tonsillitis). If so, you may need treatment with antibiotics for these accompanying bacterial infections.
  • Risk of rash with some medications. Amoxicillin and other penicillin derivatives aren’t recommended for people with mononucleosis. In fact, some people with mononucleosis who take one of these drugs may develop a rash. The rash, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re allergic to the antibiotic. If needed, other antibiotics that are less likely to cause a rash are available to treat infections that may accompany mononucleosis.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage mononucleosis (mono)?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with mononucleosis (mono):

  • Drink plenty of water and fruit juices. Fluids help relieve a fever and sore throat and prevent dehydration.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever. Use pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) as needed. These medicines have no antiviral properties. Take them only to relieve pain or a fever.
  • Use caution when giving aspirin to children or teenagers. Children and teenagers recovering from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms should never take aspirin. This is because aspirin has been linked to Reye’s syndrome, a rare but potentially life-threatening condition, in such children.
  • Gargle with salt water. Do this several times a day to relieve a sore throat. Mix 1/2 teaspoon salt in 8 ounces (237 milliliters) of warm water.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: January 4, 2017 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017

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