Friday 15 June 2018

Living with Glandular Fever

the-writing-greyhound, pen-y-fan, wales, brecon-beacons, travel

Last summer, I got glandular fever.

Now, almost a year later, I've decided to share my experience of the illness in the hope of raising awareness and helping out anyone else reading this who may also be suffering from it.

Before I get into the post, I should first point out that I am not a doctor or qualified medical professional - all I can do is share my own thoughts and experiences. If you are worried about your health or think that you could have glandular fever, I'd urge you to book an appointment with your GP as soon as possible.

What is Glandular Fever?

So, first things first, some of you are probably sitting there reading this and wondering what exactly glandular fever is.

Glandular fever is also known as the kissing disease because it is spread through saliva and is most common in teenagers and young adults. It is an infectious viral disease characterised by swelling and tenderness of the lymph glands (hence the name) and can cause extreme fatigue, lethargy and a lack of energy. Although glandular fever manifests differently in different people, the symptoms can last for weeks or even months and it is likely to make you feel very run down.

Irritatingly for sufferers, there is no cure for glandular fever. Although there are certain things you can do to aid your recovery, you just have to wait it out.

My Diagnosis

I had been feeling under the weather for a little while prior to getting my diagnosis, but I initially put the symptoms down to unremarkable factors like colds and working too hard and thought little more about it. However, as the symptoms got worse, I began paying more and more attention.

The first time I fully realised that something wasn't right was a Friday afternoon in July. It was a hot day and we had been given the afternoon off work to go to an escape room for a team bonding experience. Locked in the small, stuffy room with three of my colleagues, I found myself dizzy, overheated and struggling to focus.

Things only got worse from then on. Most of the following weekend passed by in a blur - I was spending the weekend with my boyfriend and I only remember snippets of it. I remember going for a meal with his family and having absolutely no appetite. I remember snapping at people for no particular reason. I remember sitting on the kitchen floor with my head between my legs and my eyes closed, just trying to stop the dizziness.

By late Sunday afternoon, it was clear that my symptoms were getting worse and I really wasn't well.

I phoned in sick on Monday morning and booked myself the earliest possible appointment I could get with my GP. During the appointment, the doctor checked my symptoms, took my temperature, looked at my throat and felt the glands in my neck, which were swollen and very painful. It didn't take long for him to produce an unconfirmed diagnosis of glandular fever.

I got sent straight up to the hospital for a blood test to confirm the diagnosis. Unfortunately, it was another roasting hot day and the stuffy environment and stale air of the waiting room did nothing to help my dizziness. I sat on the plastic chair in the waiting room for well over an hour as a procession of little kids and elderly people went in for their tests - finally, it was my turn.

The next day, the results were back and the test confirmed the presence of the virus in my blood. I was officially suffering from glandular fever.

Treatment and Recovery

As there is no treatment available for glandular fever, the only advice I got from the doctor was to rest up, take it easy and drink plenty of fluids. I was off work ill for the entirety of that week - I couldn't even summon the energy to get up out of the chair and make a cup of tea, let alone consider making the hour-long commute to work.

I don't think I was really with it for the majority of that week. I did very little, save for following the doctor's advice, and towards the end of the week, I began to experience a few short periods a day where I had a little more energy for a short amount of time.

In the whole week, I only left the house twice - once for my initial doctor's appointment and blood test, and once to go to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription for a spray to ease the soreness of my throat.

Luckily (or unluckily, depending on how you want to look at it) I had already booked the following week off work for a holiday with my partner. We were planning a tour of Pembrokeshire and the Brecon Beacons, including camping, walking and plenty of hiking. When I received my diagnosis the future of the trip was thrown into question, but I was determined to go as we had been looking forward to the trip and it was our first holiday together. I vowed that no matter what, I would make it to Wales!

I think having that goal in mind was a great way to speed up my recovery. Although my body wasn't entirely willing, my mind was strong enough to encourage me to push past my limits and achieve the things I wanted to. In the end, we did have that holiday. Although we weren't able to be as active as we had planned, we still had a fantastic trip and I don't regret going for a second.

Of course, we did have to adapt our plans to suit me and my illness. Drinks were carted everywhere, we took frequent rest stops and I had a few naps here and there along the way. On the second day, we stopped to rest on a clifftop walk and I fell asleep right there in the sun - hello, sunburn!

That's another thing about glandular fever - you can fall asleep literally anywhere. I consider myself quite lucky in that I've never really had major problems sleeping, but ever since I first contracted the illness I have turned into one of those people who can fall asleep in minutes and will stay in bed, fast asleep, well into the following day.

My biggest achievement by far that week was managing to climb a mountain. I had been psyching myself up for most of the week to do it and I wasn't going to let myself down. Although Pen y Fan is not the most difficult mountain to climb, for me, it was a symbolic representation of conquering my illness and showing my strength. It was difficult, it was tiring and it took a lot out of me, but I know I will always be proud when I look back on what I managed to accomplish, despite the disease.

Although the fever itself is long gone, even now I am still suffering from this illness. Glandular fever left my immune system weak and defenceless - I have lost count of the number of colds and coughs I have had over the past year. Plus, every new cold I get now goes straight to my throat - my glands swell up again and my throat gets sore and scratchy.

Despite this, the most long-lasting effect that glandular fever has had on me is lethargy. You might think that a lack of energy isn't so bad, but when you literally cannot summon the energy to move at all, you will begin to see it in a different light. I have always enjoyed my sleep, but it's safe to say that for several months, tiredness took over my life. My blog, freelance work, hobbies and social life all suffered drastically as it took all my effort and energy to keep up with the demands of my day job while I fully recovered.

For most people, glandular fever is a disease that will eventually fade away. However, there are lots of common misconceptions about this illness and few real-life accounts of glandular fever from people who have actually lived with it.

By sharing my story, I hope that I will be able to help other people out there who also have glandular fever. Things may be tough at the moment, but now, a year down the line, life is definitely looking brighter for me.

Have you ever had glandular fever? Do you have any experiences to share? Let me know in the comments below!


  1. Thank you for sharing your story. I have nothing but sympathy for you Lorna and I'm glad to hear things are finally improving for you!

    I also had a horrible case of glandular fever. It winds me up how uneducated people are about it, especially docotors. They call it the 'kissing disease' and play it down, but it ruined years of my life and made me miss countless opportunities.

    Like you I just thought I was run down when I first started feeling poorly. It was during freshers week at uni so I put it down to being hungover or having the dreaded freshers flu. I kept drinking and socialising, and even visited my boyfriend at his uni digs, which undoubtedly made me 100x worse. I slept for the majority of my time there and had no energy at all. I hadn't eaten properly for over a week at that point as I couldn't stomach anything so he called my parents. They noticed a rash developing and instantly took me to a&e thinking it was meningitis.

    Turns out, instead of attacking the illness, my body decided to attack itself. Soon I was covered in a raised, itchy rash from head to toe and honestly looked like I'd been in a fight with a swarm of bees. The doctors said they'd never seen it before and didn't know what to do, keeping me on isplisola until they decided it wasn't contagious. I was in so much pain because of the itching and the whole experience was like a nightnare. All I was given was anti-histamines which dodnt help anything and a ridiculous amount blood tests (most of which made me faint). I was bed bound for the 4 weeks it took for the majority of the rash to subside and after that it took months for my liver to recover.

    It's been 3 years now and my immune system still hasn't recovered. I've learnt to accept that if anyone even remotely near me has a cold, I'll get it and get it worse. Pre glandular fever I was extremely active and juggled all sorts, but now if I do too much in a week, the rash starts to appear again and my throat closes up. I spend my life clearing my throat too as my voice goes constantly. I have to be so careful all the time and can't just be normal, but no one understands.

    The only positive is that I no longer have insomnia and can sleep anywhere and at any time.

    1. Oh my goodness, Rae! I'm so sorry you had to go through such an awful experience. I have the problem with clearing my throat all the time too - I didn't even join the dots until I read your comment. This just proves the point that there is such little knowledge out there about glandular fever, especially the long-term effects - thank you so much for commenting and sharing your story.