Infectious Mononucleosis (Mono)

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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Infectious Mononucleosis Pictures Slideshow

What are the complications of mono?

A common, but usually not serious, complication of mono is a mild inflammation of the liver, or hepatitis. This form of hepatitis is rarely serious or requires treatment. It generally resolves on its own as the condition improves. The enlargement of the spleen that occurs with mono makes traumatic rupture of the spleen a possible complication. Swelling of the throat and tonsils can also lead to airway obstruction when severe. Infection in the area of the tonsil can rarely become a serious abscess referred to as a peritonsillar abscess.

Fortunately, the more severe complications of mono are quite rare, and mono is very rarely fatal in healthy people. The rare severe complications include destruction of red blood cells (hemolytic anemia) and inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart (pericarditis), the heart muscle itself (myocarditis), and the brain (encephalitis). Mono tends to be more aggressive in patients with abnormal immune systems, such as people with AIDS or those who are taking medications that suppress immune function.

The EBV has been associated with some types of cancers, most commonly lymphomas. This occurs most frequently in people whose immune systems have been compromised due to disease or immune-suppressive drugs. EBV infection has also been found to be associated with two types of cancer is sometimes found in other cultures -- nasopharyngeal carcinoma (cancer of the pharynx and nose) in southern China and Burkitt's lymphoma of the jaw among children in equatorial Africa. Further, numerous studies have also found that EBV infection is associated with the development of at least one subtype of Hodgkin's disease. However, since the vast majority of people have been infected with EBV and never develop these types of tumors, EBV infection cannot be the sole cause of these cancers. The overwhelming majority of people who have had mono recover completely without any serious complications.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/17/2016

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