Mumps: signs, symptoms and complications

Mumps is a viral infection that causes painful swelling of the salivary glands, fever, and headache. Mumps can be mild, especially in children, or have no symptoms. Those who become infected after puberty are at increased risk for complications, including inflammation of the testicles and ovaries. Serious complications include hearing loss and life-threatening meningitis and encephalitis. This is what you can expect from an illness.

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Frequent symptoms

Mumps is easily spread through contact with infected saliva, sneezing, or coughing. The usual incubation period (the time between exposure to infection and the first appearance of symptoms) for mumps is 12 to 25 days. It is also contagious from two days before symptoms begin to five days after swelling begins.

Mumps symptoms include:

  • Fever, mild, but can go up to 103
  • Headache
  • Pain and swelling of one or more salivary glands near the jaw (mumps). The parotid gland, located in front of the ear, is the most commonly affected gland.
  • Pain when chewing or swallowing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle pain
  • Fatigue

You may have a low fever, malaise, and headache for several days before developing swollen salivary glands. Some people have no symptoms. Others have only very mild generalized symptoms (low fever, malaise) or respiratory symptoms. Swollen glands are seen in more than 70% of cases .

The parotid gland on one side may swell before the other. In some people, the salivary glands under the base of the mouth become inflamed. The swelling usually peaks in one to three days and then goes away over the next week. This is true for all glands, and swelling and resorption often occur in waves.

After you have had mumps, you get immunity, and people who have had mumps rarely get it again. If they do, it is usually a much milder condition.

Rare symptoms

Less common but more serious symptoms may include:

  • Hot
  • Shivering with cold
  • Nausea
  • Threw up
  • Abdominal pain
  • Pain in the neck

Inflammation of the lining of the brain or spinal cord (meningitis) or of the brain itself (encephalitis) can cause moderate to severe headaches.

You may also feel confused or disoriented due to this inflammation. Brain damage can be seen during the initial infection or develop after other symptoms have disappeared. Although these conditions generally clear up without treatment, they can be life-threatening.

Inflammation of the pancreas is rare, but can cause upper abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. This is a temporary condition. There may also be inflammation in other organs, such as the heart.

Inflammation of the testicles ( orchitis ) can occur in men at puberty and occurs in up to 30% of cases in unvaccinated postpubertal men and in 6% of vaccinated men. One or both testicles may be swollen and painful. This symptom begins 7 to 10 days after the swelling of the salivary glands and is accompanied by a high fever. Sometimes men also experience abdominal pain, which can be mistaken for appendicitis. This usually clears up in three to seven days.

Inflammation of the ovaries and breasts can be seen in women who have reached puberty, but they occur in 5% of cases. A woman may feel pain in the abdomen if the ovaries are swollen and pain in the chest if the breasts are swollen.


Hearing loss is a rare complication of mumps, occurring in less than 1% of cases. This usually occurs in only one ear and hearing returns. However, hearing loss can be permanent, and mumps is the most common cause of unilateral sensorineural deafness in children. It is advisable to have your child's hearing tested 6 to 12 months after contracting mumps.

People who reach puberty without vaccines or who have had mumps before are at increased risk of complications from swollen testicles, ovaries, and central nervous system. Orchitis causes the affected testicle to shrink in about half of the cases and the sperm count can decrease in about 10 percent of the cases. This can lead to decreased fertility, but infertility is a rare complication. In women, inflammation of the ovaries can rarely lead to infertility and premature menopause.

Encephalitis is the most dangerous complication that can lead to seizures, paralysis, or other neurological conditions. It is the most common cause of the very rare deaths associated with mumps.

Although mumps is not associated with birth defects or premature births, it is associated with an increased risk of miscarriage if the mother contracts mumps in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. This could happen if the woman was not vaccinated or vaccinated. I got mumps at a younger age.

When to contact a healthcare provider

You should see your doctor if you are unsure whether your symptoms are caused by mumps. There is no specific treatment for mumps, but your doctor can rule out other causes of symptoms that may require treatment.

A Guide to Talking About Mumps with a Doctor

Get our printable guide to your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Call your doctor to see if you have any of the following signs that your disease is progressing to a serious complication:

  • Stiff neck muscles
  • Seizures
  • Strong headache
  • Severe drowsiness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Threw up
  • A lump or pain in the testicles.

Frequently asked questions

  • About 20% of mumps cases are asymptomatic or cause mild respiratory symptoms. When acute symptoms develop, they usually include:

    • Swollen and painful salivary glands on one or both sides of the face
    • Fever, usually subfebrile
    • Pain when chewing or swallowing
    • Headache
    • Muscle pain
    • Weakness and fatigue
    • Loss of appetite

  • The incubation period for mumps in most people is 12 to 21 days. There are no symptoms during this phase. During the later acute phase , a characteristic inflammation of the salivary gland (usually the parotid gland ) occurs.

  • For most people, mumps recovers completely within two weeks.

  • Some of the more common complications of mumps include:

    • Orchitis (inflammation of the testicles)
    • Hearing loss
    • Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)
    • Meningitis (inflammation of the meninges)
    • Mastitis (inflammation of the breast)
    • Oophoritis (inflammation of the ovaries)
    • Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)

  • Mumps is most infectious two days before mumps (inflammation of the parotid gland) develops and five days after it appears.

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