Exercise and the Athlete With Infectious Mononucleosis

Clin J Sport Med. 2017 Mar;27(2):168-178. doi: 10.1097/JSM.0000000000000330.


Objective: To determine appropriate management of the active individual with infectious mononucleosis (IM), including issues of diagnosis, the determination of splenomegaly, and other measures of disease status, the relationship of the disease to chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), and the risks of exercise at various points in the disease process.

Data sources: An Ovid/MEDLINE search (January 1996-June 2015) was widely supplemented by "similar articles" found in Ovid/MEDLINE and PubMed, reference lists, and personal files.

Main results: Clinical diagnoses of IM are unreliable. Traditional laboratory indicators (lymphocytosis, abnormal lymphocytes, and a heterophile-positive slide test) can be supplemented by more sensitive and more specific but also more costly Epstein-Barr antigen determinations. Clinical estimates of splenomegaly are fallible. Laboratory determinations, commonly by 2D ultrasonography, must take account of methodology, the formulae used in calculations and the individual's body size. The SD of normal values matches the typical increase of size in IM, but repeat measurements can help to monitor regression of the disease. The main risks to the athlete are spontaneous splenic rupture (seen in 0.1%-0.5% of patients and signaled by acute abdominal pain) and progression to chronic fatigue, best avoided by 3 to 4 weeks of restricted activity followed by graded reconditioning. A full recovery of athletic performance is usual with 2 to 3 months of conservative management.

Conclusions: Infectious mononucleosis is a common issue for young athletes. But given accurate diagnosis and the avoidance of splenic rupture and progression to CFS through a few weeks of restricted activity, long-term risks to the health of athletes are few.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Athletes
  • Exercise*
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Infectious Mononucleosis / complications*
  • Infectious Mononucleosis / diagnosis
  • Infectious Mononucleosis / physiopathology
  • Splenomegaly / diagnostic imaging
  • Splenomegaly / etiology*