Learn about mononucleosis and how to treat it

October 9, 2015

Mononucleosis is a common disease caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, which infects half of all North American children by the age of five. We'll go through the signs and symptoms of mononucleosis as well as your treatment options.

Learn about mononucleosis and how to treat it

Recognize the side effects and symptoms

  • Mononucleosis causes more debilitating illness in adolescents and adults, who generally experience fatigue, fever, severe sore throat, and swollen lymph nodes. Patients usually lose their appetite and complain of headaches and general achiness.
  • Often, the fever and sore throat are misdiagnosed as tonsillitis. If the sore throat is treated with ampicillin (an antibiotic similar to penicillin) the patient with mononucleosis will develop a rash.
  • The spleen — and, less often, the liver — may become enlarged. In very severe cases the patient may develop jaundice.
  • Symptoms typically last for a week or two, and most people are able to return to work at that time. In some cases though, a low-grade fever, poor appetite, and fatigue can persist for weeks after the other symptoms have disappeared. When this happens, mononucleosis may be mistaken for chronic fatigue syndrome. In the past, chronic fatigue syndrome was referred to as chronic Epstein-Barr infection, but it is now known that they are unrelated.

Understand the role of diet

  • When dealing with a bout of mononucleosis, consume lots of immune-boosting nutrients. A well-balanced diet can aid in recovery and boost the strength of the immune system to fight the disease.
  • Stimulate a poor appetite with several light, appetizing meals rather than a few larger ones. Drink at least eight glasses of water or juice daily.
  • During the acute phase when your fever may be high, it's important to drink plenty of liquids in order to prevent dehydration. During recuperation, juices have the added benefit of providing vitamins and other immune-boosting nutrients.
  • Milk shakes and fruit nectars diluted with water soothe a sore throat and provide calories for energy, along with minerals and vitamins.
  • Try soft foods and foods with fibre. Applesauce and other stewed fruits supply soluble fibre which helps prevent constipation, and soups are nutritious and easy to eat. Soft foods, such as puddings, scrambled eggs, cottage cheese, and yogurt are easily swallowed, even by someone suffering with a sore throat.
  • Fruits and vegetables can be pureed to make them easier to swallow, and you can serve vegetables as a sauce over complex carbohydrates, such as rice or soft noodles.
  • Herbal teas are soothing, and gargling with tepid salt water can relieve a sore throat.
  • Avoid alcohol, which weakens the immune system and can further damage the liver.

Seek medical treatment

  • See a physician if you think you have mononucleosis, since blood tests are necessary for a definitive diagnosis.
  • Rest is an important part of recovery. Take aspirin or some other non­steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) to ease symptoms. However, since the disease is viral rather than bacterial, it should not be treated with antibiotics.
  • Diagnosed with mono­nucleosis? You just have to wait it out. Long-term complications are rare, but activity should be limited until you feel your strength returning.
  • Don't engage in vigorous activity until your doctor says that your spleen has returned to its normal size. Abrupt force can rupture an enlarged spleen and cause serious problems.

Mononucleosis certainly isn't any fun. It can knock you out for several weeks and leave you feeling lethargic and achy. Use these tips and be sure to see your doctor if you suspect a case of mononucleosis. It may not be over quickly, but you can definitely make your recovery swifter and easier.

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