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Mastitis is a condition in which a woman’s breast tissue becomes abnormally swollen or inflamed. It is usually caused by an infection of the breast ducts. It occurs almost exclusively in women who are breastfeeding.
According to the World Health Organization, mastitis can occur with or without the presence of infection (WHO, 2000). As it progresses, mastitis can cause the formation of a breast abscess. This is a localized collection of pus within breast tissue. Severe cases of mastitis can be fatal if left untreated.
Mastitis can occur either with or without infection. If the inflammation occurs without infection, it is usually caused by milk stasis (WHO, 2000). Milk stasis is the buildup of milk within the breast tissue of lactating women.
However, inflammation caused by milk stasis typically progresses to inflammation with infection. This is because the stagnant milk provides an environment in which bacteria can grow.
Mastitis caused by an infection is the most common form.
Sometimes, a break in the skin or nipple can develop. Bacteria (usually Staphylococcus aureus) enter this break and infect the breast tissue (American Cancer Society, 2012). To fight the infection, the body releases a host of chemicals, which cause inflammation.
The causes of mastitis include:
The following may increase your risk of developing mastitis:
In these situations, you are at risk for the buildup of milk within one or both breasts, or at risk for an infection of the breast tissue.
The most common symptoms of mastitis are:
Most cases of mastitis are diagnosed clinically. A doctor will ask you questions about the condition and then give you a physical exam.
The doctor may ask when you first noticed the inflammation and how painful it is. He or she will also ask about other symptoms, whether you are lactating, and whether you are on any medications.
After the physical exam, your doctor will probably be able to tell if you have mastitis. If you have a severe infection, or if the infection does not respond to treatment, then your doctor may ask for a sample of breast milk. The clinic will test the sample to identify the exact bacteria causing the infection. This will allow your physician to give you the best possible medication (Spencer, 2008).
Inflammatory breast cancer can mimic the symptoms of mastitis. If you are being treated for mastitis and the symptoms do not improve, your doctor may test for cancer.
Treatment for mastitis ranges from the use of antibiotics to undergoing a minor surgical procedure. Some common treatments for mastitis include:
Antibiotic treatment usually completely resolves the infection.
Breastfeeding mothers are still able to breastfeed during treatment. The infection is in the breast tissue and not in the milk. Breastfeeding may also help speed the treatment process.
Your doctor may recommend that you undergo a surgical procedure called incision and drainage. During this procedure, the doctor will make a small incision to help drain any abscesses that have formed due to the infection.
The following measures may help prevent mastitis (PubMed Health, 2009):
Written by: Joseph Pritchard
Published on: Sep 05, 2013
Medically reviewed on: Jun 17, 2016: [Ljava.lang.Object;@3a3cd27f
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