Health A-Z

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Diagnosis

You will describe your symptoms. The doctor will review your:

  • Medical history

  • Smoking history

  • Current medications

  • Diet

The doctor also may ask whether you:

  • Have recently been hospitalized for surgery. Decreased intake of food and liquids after surgery can increase the risk of salivary gland stones and infections.

  • Have ever received radiation treatments for cancer of the head or neck

  • Were ever diagnosed with mumps or immunized against mumps

  • Have recently been exposed to anyone with the flu or another viral illness

  • Have any autoimmune condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis

Next, your doctor will examine your head and neck, including the area inside your mouth. The doctor will press gently on areas of your cheeks to feel for swelling of the parotid gland. He or she also will feel under your jaw for enlarged salivary glands. Tell your doctor if there is any tenderness during the exam.

Depending on your symptoms, history and physical findings, the doctor may order one or more of the following tests:

  • Blood tests. To look for a high white blood count that would suggest a bacterial infection. Other blood tests might include testing for Sjogren's syndrome, nutritional deficiencies and viral infections.

  • X-rays. To detect salivary gland stones.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans. These tests can detect tumors and stones that are not visible on X-rays.

  • Fine-needle aspiration. This test uses a thin needle to remove cells from the salivary gland to determine whether a tumor is cancerous.

  • Sialography. Dye is injected into the gland's duct so that the pathways of saliva flow can be seen.

  • Salivary gland biopsy. This is removal of a small piece of tissue to diagnose a cyst, tumor, or Sjgren's syndrome.

  • Salivary function test. To help diagnose Sjogren's syndrome.

  • Eye tests. To look for evidence of Sjogren's syndrome.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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