What is mastitis?

Mastitis is an infection and inflammation of the breast, usually the fatty tissue of the breast, that causes redness, pain and swelling. As this swelling pushes on the milk ducts, it causes pain.

Mastitis is usually caused by an infection with the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. These bacteria are normally present on your skin, but cause problems when they enter the body. Bacteria causing mastitis enter through a break or crack in the skin of the breast, usually on the nipple. In fact, mastitis usually occurs in women who are breastfeeding because the nipples often become dry and irritated and can become cracked during nursing. This allows the bacteria to invade breast tissue, in particular the milk ducts and milk glands.

Mastitis in a nonbreastfeeding woman is more common after menopause than before. In very rare cases, this may indicate the presence of another primary disease, such as breast cancer. At the same time, a clogged milk duct can mimic mastitis. While a woman adjusts to breastfeeding a new infant, the milk ducts inside the breast can become clogged, causing tenderness, redness, lumps and even heat under the skin surface, but without infection.

It is possible in many cases to determine yourself if you have a clogged milk duct as opposed to mastitis. You can usually relieve a clogged milk duct by massaging the area. If these symptoms persist, however, or if you develop fever and muscle pains or body aches, it is more likely that you have indeed developed mastitis. Fortunately, mastitis can be easily treated.

While mastitis is almost never an emergency, left untreated it can lead to a breast abscess, which is a collection of pus in a hollow area in the breast. Your doctor may need to drain the abscess. A wiser course is to never let mastitis lead to an abscess.

Seek prompt medical care if you find you have trouble relieving breast engorgement even while nursing, if you develop heat, tenderness, lumping or swelling in the breast—whether breastfeeding or not—or if you develop flu-like symptoms. Seek promptmedical care if you are breastfeeding and the symptoms do not resolve by massaging the area to unclog a milk duct.

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of mastitis?

Infection of the breast by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus causes symptoms, which can mimic a clogged milk duct or an abscess. Unlike a clogged duct, mastitis does not go away on its own or by massaging the affected area. Women with mastitis feel remarkably ill.

Common symptoms of mastitis

You may experience these symptoms whether you are breastfeeding or not. In ... Read more about mastitissymptoms

CAUSES

What causes mastitis?

Mastitis is usually caused by an infection with the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. You normally have these bacteria on your skin but it can cause infections if it enters the body through a break or crack in the skin; in mastitis, such a break or crack is usually on the nipple. Therefore it is common in women who are breastfeeding, when the nipples become tender and dry and can crack easily. Ho... Read more about mastitiscauses

TREATMENTS

How is mastitis treated?

The first choice for treating mastitis is to practice prevention. However, mastitis is usually curable with timely treatment with antibiotics and, in some cases, fever-reducing agents.

If you are breastfeeding, you will most likely be encouraged to continue breastfeeding, since this often actually helps relieve pressure; t... Read more about mastitistreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 6, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Women's Health, Female Reproductive System

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