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The Pain of Glandular Fever

© The Press
10 June, 1997

by Jo McCarroll

Glandular Fever is a pain. Everyone knows someone who has had it, yet no-one seems to know what to do about it. There is a lot of divided opinion among sufferers and medical professionals.

Glandular Fever is a viral infection and commonly affects people between the ages of 10 and 35, particularly teenagers. It generally starts with a fever, sore throat, headaches, and fatigue. It is often mistaken for tonsillitis. However, there can also be a rash, nausea, loss of appetite and enlargement of the liver. The fever itself may last about 10 days, bur the body takes much longer to rid itself of the virus. Because it is a viral infection, antibiotics are ineffective, and little can be done to treat it. Treatment focuses on building up the immune system to help the body to fight back.


Glandular Fever is difficult to diagnose, because diagnosis involves a blood test which is accurate only if the disease has been in the body long enough to build by antibodies.

It can take up to a week to develop antibodies, so the test can come back with an incorrect negative result. This means that in the first stages of the illness, when rest is crucial, sufferers can get a negative test result.

Although glandular fever is known as the "kissing disease", it is still unclear how it is spread. It is contagious, but not everyone who comes into contact with the virus catches it. Sufferers may not infect family members with whom they live, but an acquaintance may pick up the disease. There is debate over whether the extended period of fatigue, which affects many people, is part of the disease. This is one reason why glandular fever is so frustrating. The fatigue continues to affect some people for months and even years.

While someone is sick and bedridden they are an object of sympathy, but when they are simply constantly tired, friends and even medical professionals may treat them as lazy hypochondriacs.

There is also debate over whether glandular fever can result in a period of depression. Some people experience depression, but whether it is part of the brain chemistry of glandular fever or just as a result of being sick and tired is unknown.


Medical professionals recommend plenty of rest in the early stages. Those who soldier on in the early stages tend to suffer from tiredness and lethargy for longer than those who take time out at the onset of the disease, says general practitioner Dr Elizabeth Eliot. She sometimes uses steroids to build up people suffering from glandular fever.

Dr Colin Ding advocates acupuncture and Vitamin B12 injections to help the body's immune system to fight the disease more effectively.

Glandular Fever sufferers also turn to alternative medicine. Dr Wendy Isbell, a physician and homoeopath, often sees sufferers after the initial illness, when they are still fatigued, particularly if their own doctors have diagnosed them as healthy and ready to go back to school.

Homoeopathy helps the body to fight back. Dr Isbell tailors homoeopathy and herbal remedies to the individual, depending on the stage of the disease.

It is vital to rest as much as possible and not push yourself, so that your body has the best chance of fighting off the disease quickly. Avoid alcohol, because glandular fever affects the liver, which must work overtime to process alcohol. Remember that there is something you can do about it. If you feel your doctor is not taking you seriously, say so. If the situation does not improve, change your doctor.

Glandular fever is a real disease, but because the symptoms are so vague, people tend to dismiss it as laziness and whinging. It is not normal for teenagers to feel tired all the time.

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