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Here's What Mononucleosis Feels Like, Say Physicians

Everything to know about mono. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Often known as the "kissing disease" because it spreads easily through saliva, mononucleosis is a common virus that can take weeks to fully recover from. While mono isn't serious for most people, it can deplete you of energy and you'll likely sleep nonstop for a month. Sarah Anderson, a cardiology and functional medicine nurse practitioner with Peak Integrative Wellness tells Eat This, Not That! Health, "In general having mono is like having any other viral infection, such as the flu.  It can make you feel poorly during the acute illness phase, but doesn't cause any long lasting effects or chronic illness." We talked to experts about what to know about mono and what it feels like to experience it. Read their insightful information below and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What is Mono and How Do You Know You Have It?

Dr. Bayo Curry-Winchell, Urgent Care Medical Director and Physician, Carbon Health, and Saint Mary's Hospital explains, "Mononucleosis is a disease caused by a virus called Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). EBV is often associated with the phrase 'who have, or did you kiss?' or called the 'kissing disease.' The ability to self-diagnosis (i.e., know you have it) can be difficult because there is a wide spectrum of symptoms such as-extreme fatigue fever, body aches, swelling in your neck called (lymphadenopathy) and sore throat. The symptoms can mirror other viral illnesses such as the flu, covid, strep throat. It is important to seek out a health care provider for a physical exam to assess your spleen and liver. This is important because the virus can cause these organs to become enlarged. And if you participate in strenuous activity, sustain a fall or accidental low impact injury, you could potentially sustain a serious complication such as a ruptured spleen."

Anderson adds, "Mononucleosis is an infectious disease caused by the Epstein-Barr Virus, which is part of the herpes virus family.  It is also called the 'kissing disease' because it is spread through saliva. It is spread by sharing food, drinking glasses or food utensils.  Symptoms of mono are generalized cold symptoms like fever, fatigue, swollen glands, sore throat, and sometimes a rash.  The most serious sign of mono is a swollen spleen or spleen enlargement.  These symptoms don't get better with an antibiotic. You need to see your doctor to have a test and physical examination for diagnosis."


What Causes Mono?

smiling woman brushing teeth

Dr. Curry-Winchell shares, "Mono can be caused by several viruses however, the Epstein-Barr Virus is the most common because it is associated with the highest infectivity rate. The virus is spread mostly through saliva and body fluids including semen, blood and sharing personal hygiene items such as toothbrushes."


How Do Patients with Mono Describe How it Feels?

woman rubs her head, tired, sitting on bed

According to Dr. Curry-Winchell, "Patients often feel exhausted beyond the usual 'tired.' Patients will state they feel as if they have not slept for days or feel "run down" as if they participated in an intense workout or activity. Some patients will think they have strep throat, the flu, or the common cold."

Anderson says, "Most people feel very tired and fatigued and generally achy with mono.  The fatigue may last for 4-6 weeks.  They may feel swollen glands for several weeks as  well.  Some people feel swollen in the upper part of the abdomen, this can be related to spleen or liver enlargement."  

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How Does Mono Affect Someone's Daily Life?

woman puts head down on desk, tired, stressed, burned out

"Depending upon the severity of illness patients can live a normal life," Dr. Curry-Winchell states. "If severe, it can impact their ability to be productive at work. Patients experience issues with concentrating at work or holding a conversation due to severe fatigue. There is also a social stigma associated with the illness. Patients may experience feelings of isolation and miss out on family gatherings or work events. Some patients experience anxiety when they are faced with social situations such as sharing a meal or drink with family and friends."   

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How Long Does Mono Last and What's the Treatment?

overstressing in kitchen

"It can vary, symptoms often last two to four weeks however, it can last several months or longer which can impact your ability to return to your daily activities," says Dr. Curry-Winchell. 

Anderson explains, "Mono can last for 4-6 weeks or longer. There's no specific treatment for common cases because it is a viral infection. Supportive care – staying well hydrated, self-care, and rest.  Over the counter pain relievers can help with sore throat and pain from enlarged lymph nodes. Like most viruses, it needs to run its course and you will develop antibodies that protect you from future infections.  In severe cases, it can lead to spleen enlargement and liver issues.  It is important to be cautious with contact sports and intensive activities for 4-6 weeks after infection to prevent spleen rupture."  

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Who is at Risk for Mono and How Can You Avoid Getting It?

happy couple toasts wine glasses on beach

Dr. Curry-Winchell  reveals, "The most common age group is adolescents, teenagers, and young adults."

Anderson states, "Anyone can get Mono, although it is more common in teens and young adults.  Most American adults have had it by the age of  35.  You can avoid getting it by not sharing food, glasses, and other eating utensils, and avoiding kissing someone who has known active infection."


Drink Plenty of Water

holding water bottle

Dr. Curry-Winchell  reminds us that, "It is important to stay hydrated. Patients often become dehydrated because of the sore throat which can lead to additional complications. Try to rest as much as possible."


Avoid Vigorous Workouts for at Least a Month

woman relaxes while doing yoga by the water

Anderson shares, "The biggest thing that is different in mono vs other "viral illness" is to avoid contact sports and strenuous exercise for 4-6 weeks after mono infection to reduce the chances of splenic rupture while the body is healing." 

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
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