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Ask the Medical Expert Archives 2000-2004

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See a Doctor for a Sore Throat?
February 2000

Q. How do I know if I should see my doctor for a sore throat?

A. A sore throat is most commonly caused by a virus, which usually gets better on its own. However, if you also have a fever and swollen neck glands, often with discharge on the back of the throat/tonsils, then it becomes more likely that a bacteria called streptococcus (strep) may be causing the infection. It is very important to treat this type of infection with antibiotics, or else various complications may occur, such as heart disease (from rheumatic fever), and kidney disease.

Also, if a sore throat is accompanied by significant fatigue that persists for several days to weeks, and swollen glands, often with a fever and sweats, infectious mononucleosis becomes more likely. This viral illness, commonly termed "Mono" often causes symptoms for a much longer period of time, than a common virus. Also, the spleen may become enlarged and the blood count may drop and the liver may get inflamed. A much longer period of time of resting is required for this illness.

Fortunately, if you think you have more than a common cold, there are rapid tests that can be done in most doctor's offices to rule out the above more serious causes of a sore throat.

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