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Mumps


Mumps, also called epidemic parotisis, used to be a very common disease in the United States, but it has not been very widespread since the vaccine was approved in 1967. Mumps do, however, still occur in outbreaks in the United States, and are common in other parts of the world. Mumps comes from a viral infection that infects one of your three pairs of salivary glands, causing them to swell. It is most common in children between ages five through fourteen, though it can occur in people of any age.

MUMPS SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

Some people who contract mumps have no idea that they have it; they develop no symptoms. For those who do develop symptoms, they usually get them about two or three weeks after they are exposed to the virus. Symptoms can include painfully swollen salivary glands, either on one side of the face or both. Chewing and swallowing may be very painful, and you might run a fever. In addition, many people experience flu-like symptoms of weakness, loss of appetite, sore throat, ear ache, sore muscles, aversion to light, lethargy, and fatigue. Of course, the primary and most well-known symptom of mumps are the swollen glands which produce bumps on either side of the face, where the salivary glands are swollen, giving the disease its name.

MUMPS CAUSES

Mumps is caused by the mumps virus, which is very easily spread through infected saliva. If someone sneezes or coughs, or even laughs, and you breathe in droplets of it, you could contract mumps. It is also spread though sharing drinking cups or eating utensils, as well as surfaces that infected people touch, such as toys, countertops, doorknobs, and faucets. If you think that you have mumps, or that your child does, you should see your doctor immediately. Since mumps is so uncommon, chances are good that you are suffering from some other illness than mumps. It could be tonsillitis or a blocked salivary gland, which also present the symptoms of swollen glands and fever, or it could be other, more rare viruses which also infect the salivary glands. If the doctor does suspect that you have mumps, they may want to do a virus culture or a blood test to determine the presence of the virus. The blood test detects mumps antibodies, and those can tell the doctor whether you’ve had a recent infection.

MUMPS COMPLICATIONS

There are several complications that could result from the mumps. They are rare, but serious enough to make a vaccine a very important part of health maintenance. One of these complications in men is a condition called orchitis, which causes swelling of one or both testicles. This painful condition doesn’t usually lead to sterility, but in rare cases it can. In women, it can lead to inflammation of the ovaries, a condition that is serious but doesn’t lead to infertility, and swelling of the breasts. In severe cases, it could result in the loss of pregnancy. Another serious condition is pancreatitis, the swelling of the pancreas. If you get this, you will have upper abdomen pain along with nausea and vomiting. Encephalitis, the swelling of the brain, can be caused by the mumps virus, too, as can meningitis, the inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Complications from mumps can also result in permanent hearing loss in one or both ears. If you or your child experiences a stiff neck, convulsions, severe drowsiness, intense headache, severe abdominal pain, swelling of the testicles, or changes on consciousness, you should contact your doctor immediately.
mumps
Image: Mumps

MUMPS TREATMENT

Because mumps is caused by a virus and not a bacteria, it cannot be treated by antibiotics. It must simply be allowed to run its course. Most people recover from the mumps within two weeks, if there are no complications. If there are, then those complications must be treated, sometimes in the emergency room. If you have been exposed to mumps, or think you might have it, you should not return to work or school for at least nine days after possible contraction.

MUMPS PREVENTION

The best prevention of the mumps comes with immunity, and there are two ways to become immune. If you’ve already had the mumps, you are unlikely to get it again, because you will have antibodies in your system. A better method to achieve immunity is to be vaccinated. The vaccine for mumps comes as part of the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine, which is given twice before a child enters school.


Besides small children, those who should get vaccines are women of childbearing age (unless you are planning to become pregnant in the next four weeks), those who attend any sort of school, those who work in a hospital or child care center, or anyone who plans to travel overseas, including taking a cruise. As with most diseases, keeping surfaces disinfected, washing hands, and not going around other people can also stop the spread of the disease.

In the unlikely event that you do contract mumps, there is nothing you can do to cure it, but there are things you can do to take care of yourself and make yourself more comfortable until it runs its course. Bed rest is advised, at least until your fever goes away. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) can be given to ease the general achiness, headache, and the pain of swollen glands. Eat or serve soft foods that do not require a lot of chewing. Warm or cool packs on swollen glands often ease the discomfort. You should also avoid acidic foods and drinks, which can also cause discomfort.

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