June 4, 2009 in Features

Physician can answer Epstein-Barr questions

Peter H. Gott, M.D.
 

Dear Dr. Gott: I have been feeling very fatigued, so my doctor ran some blood tests. These came back showing that I have Epstein-Barr virus.

Would you please explain more about what this is? What other symptoms are there associated with this condition? Is there anything other than the special vitamins I was told to take that can help me?

I am 73 years old and feel so tired. From what my doctor told me, I understand that this is like mononucleosis and that once you have it, you will always have it.

Dear reader: The Epstein-Barr virus can cause several different diseases. It is passed from person to person by kissing or other close contact.

In the United States, as many as 95 percent of adults have had EBV infections. Most cases produce symptoms similar to those of a cold or other mild infection. Sometimes teenagers and young adults develop different, more severe symptoms, indicating that the virus has caused infectious mononucleosis.

Your doctor was correct that, once infected, EBV stays in the body. It is carried primarily by white blood cells and periodically sheds into the saliva. Shedding usually causes no symptoms, so it is possible for an otherwise healthy carrier to infect another person.

With respect to your “special vitamins,” I am unsure what you mean. There is no specific treatment for EBV. Acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen and others can be used to relieve the pain and fever associated with infectious mononucleosis. Currently, antiviral medications have little to no effect on symptoms and, therefore, are not recommended.

Whether your fatigue is truly related to a new Epstein-Barr virus infection or something different I can’t say. Take your concerns back to your primary-care physician. He or she is best suited to answer your questions, since there is a familiarity with your medical history and current health status. You may also wish to ask for a referral to a specialist if your symptoms don’t improve over time to rule out other causes, such as chronic fatigue syndrome or a poorly functioning heart.

Dear Dr. Gott: I have had a problem with low potassium for 30 years. It gave me leg cramps, so my doctor told me that a glass of orange juice or tomato juice should help. The orange juice didn’t, but 8 ounces of tomato juice replenishes the potassium and stops the cramps.

Dear reader: Many vegetables and fruits contain potassium (a mineral that is vital for normal metabolism). It can be dangerous if too high; however, too little can cause symptoms such as leg cramps.

Tomato juice is a good, safe option, although you might want to make sure that the brand you choose is not too high in sodium. For variety, you may wish to alternate with dried fruits, bananas or even mixed vegetable juices.

If your potassium is back within range but you are still having leg cramps, you may wish to try the remedies available in my Health Reports “Dr. Gott’s Compelling Home Remedies” and “More Compelling Home Remedies.”

Dr. Peter Gott is a retired physician and the author.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email