Mononucleosis ComplicationsSkip to the navigation
Most people recover from mononucleosis (mono) without any complications. But there are many possible complications of mono. These include:
- An enlarged spleen, which occurs in up to 75 out of 100 people who have mono.footnote 1
- Red spots or rash, which can develop if you are taking certain antibiotics. The rash is not an allergic reaction.footnote 2
- Mild anemia, which usually goes away without treatment after 1 to 2 months.
- White blood cells (lymphocytes) that look abnormal may result from a mononucleosis infection.
- Mild hepatitis, which usually goes away on its own without treatment.footnote 3
Other complications of mono can occur but are very rare. These include:
- A ruptured spleen. The risk of this is greatest in the second or third week of the illness. It can be the first sign of mono in a small number of people. A ruptured spleen requires immediate surgery.
- Airway obstruction and difficulty breathing, which may be caused by severely swollen tonsils that block the throat. Corticosteroids may be given to reduce swelling. In severe cases, the tonsils may need to be removed surgically (tonsillectomy).
- Brain and spinal cord problems.
- Cardiac problems, such as irregular heart rhythms, which can occur during the first 3 weeks of mono. These types of problems usually resolve on their own.
While it is not a complication specific to mono, a serious disease known as Reye syndrome can develop if you give aspirin to a person younger than 20 to treat symptoms of mono. Aspirin should not be used to treat symptoms of mono. Other medicines, such as acetaminophen (for example, Tylenol) or ibuprofen (for example, Advil) can help relieve fever and pain caused by mono. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
Even if you have a complication of mono, it is likely that you will recover completely.
- Levin MJ, Weinberg A (2012). Infections: Viral and rickettsial. In WW Hay Jr et al., eds., Current Diagnosis and Treatment: Pediatrics, 21st ed., pp. 1177–1219. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- American Academy of Pediatrics (2012). Epstein-Barr virus infections (infectious mononucleosis). In LK Pickering et al., eds., Red Book: 2012 Report of the Committee on Infectious Diseases, 29th ed., pp. 318–321. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
- Johannsen EC, Kaye KM (2010). Epstein-Barr virus (infectious mononucleosis, Epstein-Barr virus-associated malignant diseases, and other diseases). In GL Mandell et al., eds., Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases, 7th ed., vol. 2, pp. 1989–2010. Philadelphia: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.
Other Works Consulted
- Levin M, et al. (2014). Infections: Viral and rickettsial. In WW Hay Jr et al., eds., Current Diagnosis and Treatment: Pediatrics, 22nd ed., pp. 1227–1270. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical Reviewer Caroline S. Rhoads, MD - Internal Medicine
Current as ofAugust 9, 2016
Current as of: August 9, 2016
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2016 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.