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Mastitis: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About Mastitis

Mastitis is the term used for infection and inflammation of the breast tissue which can occur in lactating women (puerperal mastitis) and non-lactating women (non-puerperal mastitis). Mastitis may result from bacterial infection, excess production of milk or blockage of ducts in breast tissue.

Mastitis: Incidence, age & sex

Mastitis is commonly encountered in women, especially those who are in lactation period. About 10% of women may develop mastitis, within six months after childbirth.

Signs and symptoms of mastitis: Diagnosis

Pain and swelling in the breast along with general malaise are common complaints. Other features include breast tenderness (patient experiences pain on clinical palpation by the doctor), redness of skin over the breast and fever. The affected breast appears lumpy and red.

The diagnosis of mastitis is usually based on physical examination by the doctor who takes into account the signs and symptoms of the condition. If the doctor is not sure whether the mass is an abscess or tumour, an ultrasound can be performed. An ultrasound probe is placed over the breast. It provides a clear image of the breast tissue and helps in distinguishing between simple mastitis and abscess. In suspected cases of infectious mastitis, cultures are taken from the breast milk or material aspirated from the abscess. These cultures identify the type of organisms involved and the specific antibiotics that will be effective against them. Mammograms or breast biopsies are performed in women who are non breast feeding and those who do not respond to treatment.

Cause and prevention of mastitis

Mastitis can occur due to bacterial infection wherein Staphylococcus aureus, Staphylococcus. epidermis and streptococci are commonly implicated. Mastitis typically develops when milk is not properly expressed from the breast. Milk stasis leads to blockage of milk ducts. Mastitis may occur when the baby is not properly attached to breast during feeding or when the baby has infrequent feeds or has problems suckling the milk from breast.

Mastitis can be prevented by proper breast feeding methods which prevent development of milk stasis. Infants should be well attached to the breast during breast feeding and should be fed with no restrictions in the amount and frequency of feedings.

Mastitis: Complications

Mastitis may progress to a severe pus forming infection in breast tissue leading to abscess formation. An abscess is a collection of pus that develops into the breast and ultimately requires surgical drainage. Moreover it also has a tendency to recur frequently.

Mastitis: Treatment

Patients with mastitis should be encouraged to breastfeed their babies so as to empty the stored milk and avoid its stasis in the breast tissue. The affected breast should be offered first to the baby for good drainage. Hot fomentation to the breast, analgesics like acetaminophen or ibuprofen may provide symptomatic relief. Antibiotic medication is also prescribed in cases of infectious mastitis.