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Mononucleosis: Signs, Symptoms, And Its Treatment

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Mononucleosis: Signs And Treatments

Mononucleosis, "mono" for short, is a systemic viral infection that causes fatigue, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, and a fever. If that sounds like every other viral infection, you're not wrong. Often called the kissing disease, mono spreads through a person's saliva and other bodily fluids. Mono usually sorts itself out on its own in a few weeks. However, watch out for secondary issues such as liver and spleen disorders may arise. Treatment includes ample rest, hydration, and consuming foods that can help build immunity.

If you’ve never heard of mononucleosis before, you’re just one among many of us! After all, it doesn’t get as much as attention as diabetes, cancer, or even the common cold. But consider this: about 95% of the human population has antibodies to the virus that causes mononucleosis. This is simply because almost all of us have been infected by the offending virus, Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV), at some point. While this viral infection doesn’t always show symptoms, it could develop into mononucleosis.1 Also called the kissing disease, this is a contagious viral infection with flu-like symptoms

Mononucleosis is usually caused by the Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) virus. Other viruses that can cause symptoms very similar to mono are adenovirus, cytomegalovirus (CMV), hepatitis (A, B, or C), HIV, rubella, and toxoplasmosis.2

Signs And Symptoms Of Mononucleosis

Symptomatic mononucleosis is most common in adolescents and young adults. Strangely, the infection usually goes unnoticed in children. People begin to have signs and symptoms of mono about four to six weeks after picking up the virus from an infected person. One in four people who pick up the virus usually develops the infection. Others develop antibodies and never experience the disease again.3

If you have any of the following symptoms, consider the possibility of mononucleosis.

  • Fever and a sore throat
  • Headaches and body pain
  • Painful and swollen lymph nodes in the neck and armpit
  • A characteristic rash on parts or all over the body
  • Extreme levels of fatigue

Some people continue to feel tired or fatigued months after the other symptoms have settled down.

Some symptoms of mononucleosis can develop into longer-term issues. They may prevail even after symptoms such as fatigue and fever have disappeared. These symptoms are quite serious but rare.

  • An enlarged spleen (splenomegaly) or liver, accompanied by the above symptoms, is almost definitively diagnosed as mononucleosis.
  • If the spleen is enlarged and it ruptures, you may feel a sharp pain in the left lower abdomen, in which case you must see a doctor immediately.
  • Liver inflammation and jaundice would require supervised treatment for a longer period of time.
  • In people who have other immune-related conditions such as HIV or in cases of organ transplants, the EBV can cause more severe, systemic complications.

Diagnosis Of Mono

Diagnosis of mononucleosis depends largely on the symptoms, so if you have one or more of the above symptoms, you must discuss your concerns with a doctor. A heterophile antibody test is often prescribed for confirmation, but this has low efficacy in the first week of infection.4

If mono is suspected in spite of an initial negative antibody test, the test could be recommended at a later date. People who are affected develop antibodies later or, in some cases, not at all.

Be extra cautious if you are pregnant. If you suspect mono, get tests on time so appropriate steps can be taken. This is because viruses such as CMV and toxoplasmosis can cause damage to the fetus.5

Ways To Prevent And Treat Mononucleosis

Mononucleosis has no cure and will run its course. The only way to deal with it is to treat the symptoms to feel better.

  • The treatment path includes lots of rest, adequate hydration, and over-the-counter medication for fever and pain.6
  • Since mono is a viral infection, antibiotics are ineffective against it. There is no known vaccine against EBV either.
  • If a specific organ such as the spleen or liver is infected, you will need to use the right medication to treat these secondary illnesses.
  • In case you have an enlarged spleen, it is advised that you avoid strenuous activity and contact sports until the swelling is resolved. Too much activity can rupture the spleen. Avoiding all strenuous activity for at least a month after the infection is considered safe.7
  • Mononucleosis is called the kissing disease as it spreads through saliva. It is best not to share glasses, plates, spoons, toothbrushes, and cosmetics with someone who is infected. Avoid kissing an individual you know to be infected.8
  • Making healthy food choices, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, eating less red meat, and more of beans, legumes, and omega-3 fatty acids are options to make recovery easier. Staying well-hydrated is very important too.9

Alternative Treatment Paths

Treatment with Rohitakarishta: In Ayurveda, it is widely accepted that mononucleosis can cause splenomegaly and it can be treated by an Ayurvedic mixture called Rohitakarishta. However, do not consume the mixture unless it’s advised by an experienced Ayurvedic practitioner.10

Power of coconut oil: Research suggests that pregnant women and nursing mothers who have been infected by mononucleosis can avoid passing on the infection to their infants by consuming coconut oil. Coconut oil is rich in lauric acid, which is often used for medicinal purposes because of its ability to fight viral illnesses. While some sources suggest a daily consumption of about three tablespoons, it is best to decide the dosage after consulting an expert. Sources also suggest that eating other products containing coconut such as coconut milk and shredded coconut can help pregnant women and nursing mothers.11

Herbal remedies: Consuming herbs such as echinacea and green tea can also help fight viral infections and strengthen immunity. However, echinacea must not be given to children unless prescribed by a doctor. It should also not be consumed by people who have autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.12

As is commonly the case with viral infections that spread from person to person, awareness of the precautions is key. If you think someone may have an EBV infection, get them to see a doctor immediately so they can take adequate precautions and avoid spreading the infection. And if you have been infected by EBV and are on the path to recovery, always watch out for secondary disorders such as jaundice and spleen enlargement and take the necessary precautions.

References   [ + ]

1. Womack, Jason, and Marissa Jimenez. “Common questions about infectious mononucleosis.” American family physician 91, no. 6 (2015).
2, 3, 4. About Infectious Mononucleosis. Centers For Disease Control And Prevention.
5. Mononucleosis (Mono) Test. American Association for Clinical Chemistry.
6. Mononucleosis: How Can I Get Better? Nemours Children’s Health System.
7. Haines Jr, Joe D. “When to resume sports after infectious mononucleosis: how soon is safe?.” Postgraduate medicine 81, no. 1 (1987): 331-333.
8. Infectious Mononucleosis. U.S National Library Of Medicine.
9, 12. Mononucleosis. University Of Maryland Medical Center.
10. SARKER, ARJYABRATA. “HAEMATOLOGICAL STUDIES OF AN AYURVEDIC MEDICINE USED IN SPLENOMEGALY.” PhD diss., JAHANGIRNAGAR UNIVERSITY, 2013.
11. Fife, Bruce. “Coconut oil and medium-chain triglycerides.” (2009).