Glandular fever 


Glandular fever

An expert explains how glandular fever is caused, how it's passed on and how to recognise the symptoms.

Media last reviewed: 20/08/2013

Next review due: 20/08/2015

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Glandular fever is a type of viral infection that mostly affects young adults.

It is also known as infectious mononucleosis, or "mono".

Common symptoms include:

While the symptoms of glandular fever can be very unpleasant, most of them should pass within two to three weeks. Fatigue, however, can occasionally last several months.

Read more about the symptoms of glandular fever.

When to seek medical advice

You should contact your GP if you suspect that you or your child has glandular fever.

While there is little your GP can do in terms of treatment, they can provide advice and support to help you control your symptoms and reduce the risk of passing the infection on to others.

You should go to your local accident and emergency (A&E) department or dial 999 for an ambulance if you have glandular fever and you:

  • develop a rasping breath (stridor) or have any breathing difficulties
  • find swallowing fluids difficult
  • develop intense abdominal pain

These symptoms can be a sign of a complication of glandular fever that may need to be treated in hospital.

What causes glandular fever?

Glandular fever is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). This virus is found in the saliva of infected people and can be spread through:

  • kissing – glandular fever is often referred to as the "kissing disease"
  • exposure to coughs and sneezes
  • sharing eating and drinking utensils, such as cups, glasses and unwashed cutlery

EBV may be found in the saliva of someone who has had glandular fever for several months after their symptoms pass, and some people may continue to have the virus in their saliva on and off for years.

If you have EBV, it's a good idea to take steps to avoid infecting others while you are ill, such as not kissing other people, but there's no need no need to avoid all contact with others as the chances of passing on the infection are generally low.

Read more about the causes of glandular fever.

Who is affected?

Glandular fever can affect people of all ages, but most cases affect teenagers and young adults.

Most EBV infections are thought to occur during childhood and cause only mild symptoms, or no symptoms at all.

However, if a person develops an EBV infection during early adulthood, they can develop glandular fever.

Once you have had glandular fever, it is unlikely you will develop it again. This is because people develop lifelong immunity after the initial infection.

How glandular fever is diagnosed

To diagnose glandular fever, your GP will first ask about your symptoms before carrying out a physical examination. They will look for characteristic signs of glandular fever, such as swollen glands, tonsils, liver and spleen.

Your GP may also recommend a blood test to help confirm the diagnosis and rule out infections that can cause similar symptoms, such as cytomegalovirus (CMV), rubella, mumps and toxoplasmosis.

How glandular fever is treated

There is no cure for glandular fever, but there are a number of simple treatments and measures that can help reduce the symptoms while you wait for your body to control the infection.

These include:

  • drinking plenty of fluids
  • taking over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen
  • getting plenty of rest and gradually increasing your activity as your energy levels improve

Occasionally, antibiotics or corticosteroids may be used if you develop complications of glandular fever.

Some people with particularly severe symptoms may need to be looked after in hospital for a few days.

Read more about treating glandular fever.

Possible complications

Complications associated with glandular fever are uncommon, but when they do occur they can be serious. They can include:

  • further infections of other areas of the body, including the brain, liver and lungs
  • severe anaemia (a lack of oxygen-carrying red blood cells)
  • breathing difficulties as a result of the tonsils becoming significantly swollen
  • a ruptured (burst) spleen, which may need to be treated with surgery

Read more about the complications of glandular fever.

Page last reviewed: 29/10/2014

Next review due: 29/10/2016


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The 25 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

HannahLilley said on 30 October 2014

I am 20 years old and have had Glandular Fever since June 2014, I had tonsillitis twice over the summer because of GF (I have never had tonsillitis before) and in September I developed an abscess in on of my tonsils. I have now had GF for 5 months and I am still suffering from fatigue, a [consitant] severe headache, and inflamed tonsils. I have also developed anemia as a secondary effect of GF.

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oneofeight said on 02 May 2014

Currently suffering from GF, now my 6th day. I'm 43, female, have not caught it by kissing and I've had no tonsils for 30 years. However, my lymph nodes became so swollen in my neck on day 4, that paramedics were called and stabilised my breathing. My lips had gone white, above the upper lip was blue and my legs were like jelly, I could hardly stand. Our local hospital had a queue of 16 ambulances waiting to book in, so the 2 paramedics spent over an hour stabilising me. I had BP checked, blood sugars, SATS, and an ECG, all in my own bed. Temperature was 37.9, which is classed as fever. I cannot praise these 2 paramedics enough. They were thorough, friendly and professional throughout and didn't leave until I could breathe a little easier. Now, 2 days later the lymph nodes in my neck have receded slightly but my lower back and groin are becoming painful, as the virus spreads.

If you think you have GF and can't access your doctor I would say 3 things 1) it's a viral infection, antibiotics will not help 2) try to sit and sleep as upright as possible and 3) drink plenty of cool fluids - I stuck with water as anything else burned my throat.

I don't know where I caught this, possibly from a very busy children's activity centre, lots of people in small space, plenty of coughing and sneezing. Although that describes my GPs surgery also. It is not only caught by kissing but it is very easily spread that way. Fingers crossed you'll never read this comment but if you do, remember the 3 things above.

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Henry third said on 25 March 2014

Aged 15, over 4-6 months I grew gradually more tired and weak,my urine became very brown in colour and had a constant worsening headache,drugs seemed to have little effect on.
I struggled at school,badly my sports playing ceased and eventually was bed bound with a very swollen neck and no appetite.
The Doctor came to me and immediately sent for an Ambulance and I was hospitalised.
Numerous blood tests were taken (both arms veins flattened)lead poisoning was an option, then because my haemoglobin level was nearly non existent,blood transfusions began,my blood was being damaged badly.
After a while my bone marrow was found to have been attacked by glandular fever and then more blood transfusion and treatment given.
I did about 4 weeks in hospital,then told no sports activity for 6 months,and never give blood as it will always be in my bone marrow.
I went to meeting at hospitals afterwards with doctors
as I was only the second known case at the time of this variation in glandular fever in the Midlands area.

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Bananaboat said on 25 February 2014

I am currently suffering from my second bout of glandular fever in less than 10 years. The first time I contracted it was when I was 19, I lost nearly 2 stone in weight, was in complete agony with my tonsils and was very unwell for approx 4 months. Having been told that it was impossible to get mono again, I was quite surprised that I was once again diagnosed with the virus at the age of 28.

I think people need to realise that symptoms of GF are very similar to other viruses and infections so misdiagnoses is possible. I was informed that blood tests don't always give a positive result. It may show a dip in white blood cells indicating a virus, however with the correct symptoms it is likely to be confirmed.

I'm fortunate that the symptoms are fairly mild in comparison to my first diagnoses. My throat is red however there's no pain. My glands are swollen and sore, abdomen is tender as is my back, but the fatigue is just as bad as the first time around. Thankfully I've managed to keep eating this time around but I have had 3 weeks off week and have just been signed off for another.

I don't think people realise how bad mono is and assume its just a bad cold and show little sympathy. I would take a bad cold over this any day!

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H_G_G said on 24 February 2014

I developed Glandular Fever around 1.5 months ago. It started with a complete lack of appetite and then sickness and then swelling of the glands etc, I basically had every symptom after about 3 weeks. Once the white blotches on my throat came out I went to the doctors thinking it was tonsillitis, they gave me antibotics and after a week I felt better. Two days later I came out in an all body rash, swelling on my hands, feet and face. My lips were 3 times bigger than their usual size.

I then had to have blood tests and a (horrible) throat swab and I actually had glandular fever. No apologies from the doctors for being misdiagnosed and causing me considerable pain, discomfort, embarrassment and unpaid time off work.

I'm still struggling as it's all peeling away and the fresh new skin is very delicate, I have to wear gloves most of the time just to be able do anything. I still feel incredibly tired after a working day and exercise just seems impossible. It's also made my hemorrhoids swell and caused even more problems so I'm still suffering nearly two months later. Hopefully by the summer I will be fit and healthy again no thanks to the doctors!!

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janef61 said on 08 February 2014

I have just been diagnosed with Glandular Fever after a blood test.
I have been unwell for about a month now. my main symptoms have been swollen Lymph nodes in the side of my neck. (painful and tender) headaches generally feeling unwell and although the node has now decreased in size , I am worrying that maybe I may have been misdiagnosed or there is something else it could be.
Is it sometimes a guessing game with Glandular Fever especially in older patients ( I am 52).. or does the blood test definitely confirm you have it, or just that there is something abnormal.

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juliemmy1966 said on 12 November 2013

hi,I am now at the end of my tether, my daughter who is 18 has had 3 strp throat attacks in the last 6 weeks, shes feeling ill all the time she had her tonsils out when she was 5 so all this came as a surprise, the infections shes has had are really severe you cant see the back of her throat due to the infection she also very tired,i took her back to doctors yet again yesterday and they still refuse to do a blood test she has now developed a paid in the upper left part of her body just under her left ribs but the doc didnt seem concerned although this is what i took her there for,she then checked her throat and confimred the infection had come back,shes now been off college for 6 week so the college are getting frustrated and all this is now making my daughter very depressed,one doc did mention glandular fever saying she had all the symptoms even the purple spots in her mouth but she had no blood test to confimr this, her last blood test was in April and because this was clear they are saying she doenst need another one would GF show up in her blood 5 months before she develops it,i really dont know where to go from her now do i demand a blood test but i am really concerned about the pain she is having the docs do not seem one bit concerned only about the depression,any help would be of value.thanks

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barmygal said on 25 October 2013

I suffered with Gf when I was 17, studying for my AS levels. For me, this did not last 'a couple of weeks', but several months! Firstly I started to feel like I had a cold, but this wouldnt pass and lasted 2 months. It slowly got worse and worse until one day, at school, I fell asleep! When the teacher came to wake me, she found the left side of my face completly swollen, I could not open my left eye, it was very hard to wake me. My head teacher ended up carrying me to first aid when an ambulance was called. After being sat in a&e for hours, I was told I had mumps and sent home. Several days passed with no improvement, I felt awful! Couldnt eat, barely drank, and pretty much slept. The doc was called again who decided to do a blood test...suprise suprise it came back that I had glandular fever! I was straight on antibiotics, bedrest and jelly, jelly, jelly! It was another month before I was able to get back to school (four months of gf so far) my lovely teachers got me extra time in my exams, as I was still randomly falling asleep. It was a good 6 months after I first felt ill that I finally felt human again! I have never heard of it affecting the whole face before it happened to me. My left eye actually has a 'inner scar' still, its a gray mark on the eye white, which has to be checked every 6 months. I had a very nasty bout of it according to my doctor. Luckily, I still managed to pass my AS levels! If you have gf now, I hope you better very quick!

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Sugary1997 said on 21 October 2013

I was diagnosed with glandular fever a few months ago. I was admitted to hospital and spent 4 days there. The nurses were great but the pain was excruciating! I wasn't eating at all, barly drinking and couldn't really talk. In two days, the only think I are was a little pot of jelly. I was ill during summer and due to start college a few weeks after I left hospital. I started on the first day and, although I'm not walking to and from, I am successfully managing my average of 3 mile long site changes a day. I've only missed 2 days in my first 7 weeks. I do struggle with energy but I find sugar has got me through! Nothing has changed in my busy life, I'm still playing my instruments, singing at choir and going to rangers. I've just finished a weekend looking after 32 7 to 10 year old girls at a brownie weekend at PGL and although I'm exhausted now, I managed it. So anyone out there who's worried about energy levels, they will come back and you can still do things. Good luck with your recovery!

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ladyrider said on 23 September 2013

I had glandular fever in 2001/2002. I was in a very busy job and I suffered for a year with abscesses in my mouth, fatigue, very weak, depression because of this and just being sick all the time. And I could not sleep. Once i went without sleep for a week. A medical doctor prescribed very mild anti- depressants for a week, as well as staying in bed and resting.
After that treatment, i went to a homeopath, and while i was being treated by him, went very regularly for Body Stress Release sessions.
It seemed that this did the trick, as i recovered fully.
It is important that, while you have glandular fever, your family members knows what the symptoms are, and that they respect the fact that you need as much rest as possible.

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Thejojo said on 09 September 2013

My 15 year old son has been very ill for 5 months with what we now believe is glandular fever.He had a blood test 3 days ago & just waiting for the results.Been so ill - tired,sore throats,pale but the worst part has been a constant low pain on the left side of his abdomen.Just wish I'd read these comments earlier as am convinced now it's glandular fever with possibly a swollen spleen.Cannot believe that our local GP hadn't picked up on this as have had him at our local surgery 7 times in the last 5 months....until then a perfectly healthy sporty teenager....& yet no-one suggested this !? Just hope that we can get to the bottom of it as I cannot believe how ill he's been !

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izzyg7 said on 02 September 2013

I am 18 and have just been diagnosed with glandular fever two days ago. I had a terrible sore throat, then became really ill on holiday and was given two courses of antibiotics but the symptoms only got worse and my sore throat eventually turned into I thought was tonsillitis. I was treated with penicillin but still the illness got worse until my tonsils were effectively touching and covered in white dots, swallowing was intensely painful and sleeping was impossible because it was hard to breathe. At this point my mum was very concerned so took me for a blood test and it turned out I had glandular fever, the doctor prescribed me steroids to take the swelling down on my throat so I could sleep and the result was miraculous. Within a days the swelling had completely gone and swallowing was painless again, of course, the exhaustion persist, but I can rest now the throat infection has gone.

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Raggydoll00 said on 30 August 2013

I had glandular fever when I was 15 & I was very ill, it got to the point where I couldn't even lift my own head or arm & very nearly ended up in hospital, can't remember how long it lasted though.
I'm now 32 & have it again right now at exactly the same time of yr as before, I'm on antibiotics & my throat is so sore & my glands are very swollen & extremely painful, even my neck looks swollen. I've been bad with a cold that went onto my chest for 2 weeks & have just finished antibiotics but now on them again. Pains getting worse, I just hope it doesn't last long. At least I no longer have my tonsils otherwise they'd be painful too.

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markt82 said on 06 July 2013

I got Glandular Fever back in 2011 (at 29 years old). Swollen lymph nodes was the main reason I went in to see my GP.

I have to say I really struggled with the fatigue, particularly for the first 3 months. I'd go home after work and feel physically sick i was so tired, and spent many hours sleeping, particularly over weekends. Got lots of colds and things. I couldn't touch coffee or alcohol for about 9 months or else it'd knock me down into a cold which could last a couple of weeks.

I preferred not to walk up the escalators on the tube, cut out my gym regime, and got lunch from places nearer to work. I found eating well helped to offset the tiredness. Big pasta meals, cheese, beef and dumplings, and also eating green vegetables. I put on about 10kg in the first 6 months!

Today, I think i'm finally back to normal. My weight and fitness has returned to what it was. I can now drink coffee and alcohol (but not too much). As a result of the experience, i've become a lot more in tune with my body. I can now tell if i'm run down, and can avoid a cold most of the time by catching the early signs and knowing what my body can cope with.

My personal experience was quite testing, and I don't feel my body is quite as resilient as it once was but i feel i'm stronger from the experience.

If you've recently been diagnosed, my advice would be to take lots of rest, don't over do it, eat well. You'll start feeling much better, if like me, in about 4 weeks, but don't over do it or else it'll strike back.

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ejpg said on 19 June 2013

I have glandular fever which I thought was tonsillitis. I find that warm tea and a bowl of warm custard helps to soothe the pain in my throat. However it has thrown my sleeping pattern out as I find myself awake at 5am completely awake, yet at lunchtime I am exhausted My advice to anybody is to take it easy, drink plenty fluids and just relax.

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Flexk said on 17 May 2013

I was diagnosed with glandular fever two days ago. (I'm 19 by the way).

About 2 weeks ago, before even considering I had anything wrong with me, I realised that a large lump on my neck appeared. It was in fact a lymph node. Two days after discovering this lump, I began to feel quite ill for 3 days.

After this fever, I went to the doctor because my lymph node on my neck still hadn't shrunk.

I got my blood test taken and it was confirmed that I had glandular fever. However, I have a very small case of it. So I was not given a prescription for an anti-biotic.

I feel fine now, even though I was recently diagnosed. I must be quite lucky considering other people's experiences with glandular fever.

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marshall5 said on 09 April 2013

I had glandular fever when I was 15 and about to sit GCSE exams. I was off for 6 weeks and returned to school but I returned to early and ended up being off for another 4 weeks. I had severe swelling in my neck and throat and struggled to swallow. I was also very fatigue and couldn't get out of bed for the first few weeks. I also had mild swelling in my spleen so I was unable to do any active sport for 2 weeks.
6 years on I feel that I still suffer. If I work to hard (I'm currently at uni) I become very tired and my glands swell up and my neck becomes sore and tender.

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Little chaz said on 21 October 2012

I had a very sore throat and had terrible pain at both sides of my neck, my mouth inside was very white. I thought it was just a sore throat but what I found worse was the horrible pain down the sides of my neck. The doctor examined me and she arranged for me to have a blood test. When the test came back it said glandular fever. I was one of the lucky ones as it was all over in a week and I did not suffer any more. I have noticed that before I had glandular fever I was always suffering with sore throats and I would always lose my voice but since having glandular fever I do not get hardly any sore throats.

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Sophie001 said on 01 August 2012

I caught glandular fever just before I went on holiday to Croatia last year. My throat was covered in white dots but I thought it was just tonsillitis which I have had numerous times so went on holiday all the same. On the first day on my holiday my tonsils swelled up so large that they were near enough touching each other and were coated completely white.
I could hardly get up or move, my temperature was in it's high 40's, I was constantly tired and couldn't eat, drink or swallow so my family got really worried and decided to take me to a doctor at the airport where I was given a drip for the first time because I was so dehydrated and my blood was taken. I hated needles so much but I was so weak I couldn't really care. I then went back to the hotel and managed to fall asleep. But the next day I was still just as bad. Every night I had to get my tea taken up to my room because I couldn't walk far.
I soon had to go back to the airport hospital and the nurses were even more shocked at my symptoms. They injected me with a thick antibiotics in one of my bum cheeks and said I would have to go to the main hospital to see a specialist. The next day when I did my bloods were taken (was hard because my veins were hard to find) and dripped again. My spleen had become 4cm bigger than usual, I had the start of pneumonia in one of my lungs, an upper respiratory infection and fluid around one of my ovaries.
My tests came back to say that I had a very bad case of glandular fever which only 10% of people who get it actually suffer. In total I was dripped 3 times and I lost count of how many bloods were taken. I had an ultrasound and x-rays. I had to be transported in a wheelchair. How I was treated in Croatia was better than how I was treated in the UK as they acted as though they didn't care.
Glandular fever left me with IBS (irritable bowl syndrome) and doctors at the start told me I could not have it since I was in my teens. But turns out I have it.

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Biscuitman said on 25 June 2012

My experience with glandular fever seems pretty typical, being a male in my 20's.

Around two weeks before my university final major project was due in, I suddenly began to feel very tired all the time, and developed a sore throat. After a week, my left tonsil became swollen and painful, so after popping in to see my GP, he believed it was tonsillitis, or some form of throat infection. He prescribed me a week's course of antibiotics, but they had no effect, so after seeing him a second time, he believed it was glandular fever, and sent off a blood test. Two days later my GP rang me up and confirmed it as glandular fever.

At this point I'd finished my project, so essentially had nothing to stress about anymore, but despite being able to rest, both tonsils grew so large that they covered the back of my throat (apparently my snoring had to be heard to be believed), glands under my neck grew huge, as well as many down the side of my neck.

The biggest problem, besides headaches and exhaustion, was swallowing, which was very painful. Fortunately, After a week or so, the symptoms slowly began receding. I'm no doctor, but since my problems were mostly swallowing, I found the best solutions were:

- letting honey sit on the tonsils, and/or mixing it with very milky porridge
- eating crushed ice before meals
- ice cream and lollipops
- gargling salt water, to remove the pus covering the tonsils

I had the symptoms for about 5 weeks in the end, and the worst of the fatigue disappeared after a further month. I still feel tired a fair bit, but it's not really disruptive anymore and I forget about it most of the time to be honest. My GP was available to see me at short notice, and despite not really being able to do anything, was honest and helpful.

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User653394 said on 08 March 2012

In november 2011 i went to my local gp to see my local doctor as i had symptoms of what i thought at the time was a cold/flu type bug that was sweeping my home town, after 3-4 weeks i was still suffering with symptoms, i.e, extreme tierdness exhaustion, no energy sleeping lots and not having any energy to do any day to day tasks at all. I would get up in the morning with a burst of energy and make my breakfast as i still had my appitite and no more than an hour later i would be in my bed again wanting to sleep. this was so distressing as i am generally well and healthy, so back to the doctors i popped, i was reffered to my local nurse for blood tests and low and behold after 4 days of waiting my blood results were positive to Glandular Fever. I can honestly say i have never experienced a fever such as bad as this. I am now on the long road to recovery 3/6 monthin some cases, and in other cases i read years and take each day as it comes and my immune system is gaining strengh more and more each day.

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Mrs Re said on 06 March 2012

My 11 yr old daughter had tonsillitis,to the point where her glands had to be lanced .this lasted for 7 weeks , shestired all the time and very emotional and didnt want to do anything, after lots of blood tests and waiting for the results- i was told she had the Epstein-Barr virus ebv ..she was on antibiotics for weeks ,but still had a sore, swollen throat and glands and sore tongue.she seems to be better for 3 days- then it flares up again ,i hope in a few weeks this will clear up , the doctors said its because she started a new secondary school , so she prone to catch every virus that s never been in contact with her , she missed alot of school over this virus.. i just hope it goes soon :(

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soleil said on 19 April 2011

I was diagnosed with glandular in the last stages of my GCSE's (which is about 17 years ago now)
I had a temperature of 104, was confined to bed, sweated a lot (the sheets were soaking). I had white ulcer / sores on the inside of my mouth, down my throat and swollen glands. Had to have blood tests and be reguarly examined by the Dr at home, in bed (as unable to go anywhere) He checked things like my temperature and the swollen glands in my throat, under arms and groin. I lost quite a bit of weight. I was told not to have any stress, but the school didn't seem to care about this, continuously calling to get me to attend my exams, threatening that I would have to repeat if I did not show up. I couldn't even walk down stairs from my bedroom, but as a result I ended up making my parents drive me to school and sitting the exams in pain and with an elevated temperature. Unfortunately, I did not manage to achieve the grades that had been predicted before I contracted the illness. I remember my dad was quite disappointed that I had not achieved my full potential. I was still ill in bed when I got the results.Glandular fever stayed with me for 9 months, I had been told that there were 2 types a less serious version lasting a few weeks and a more serious version which I had. I remember after months, when I should have been better attempting to go for a walk with my dad, within a few minutes I just couldn't continue and he had to carry me back home. My mum says that I've never been the same since I had the illness. I would say that that it had quite a negative impact on my later education, career prospects and life in general. I was expected to go to university before I had the illness, but instead this never happened. What I aslo find concerning is that I have heard there is an apparent link between Glandular fever (epstein barr virus) and developing MS.

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bethannyxx said on 03 December 2010

I was diagnosed with Glandular Fever around about 2 months ago. Although the initail fluey symptoms have completely gone, I'm still suffereing with fatigue and frequently lose my breath. When attempting to lightly jog for the bus etc, I notice that my insides become sore, but have been told this is common. Although I feel as though I'm battling against myself, taking things easy is the best thing for this illness.

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Nicky1362 said on 16 May 2010

I had GF about 2 years ago. I was off work for 10 weeks. When I returned to work I remained very tired suffering from aching limbs. Usually after working i would be so exhausted I used to go straight to bed. I struggled a lot and had a lot off time off work due to a low immune system I used to catch everything
I really made sure a ate a very healthy diet with all the super foods , I did gentle exercise, when I could and made sure I had plenty of rest. I had an intolerance for alcohol. for a long time.
I've had good months and bad months, but only now after 2 years I can honestly say that I have recovered.

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