Understanding Mastitis – Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention
What is Mastitis?
Mastitis, also known as lactational mastitis, is an inflammation of the breast tissue that results in swelling, pain, warmth, and redness. It is a common condition that affects breastfeeding women. It can cause various symptoms, including breast tenderness, fever, and flu-like symptoms.
Mastitis is caused by an infection of the breast tissue, usually by bacteria that enter through a crack or sore in the nipple. The infection can cause the milk ducts in the breast to become blocked, leading to the accumulation of milk in the breast tissue. This can cause the breast to become infected, leading to mastitis symptoms.
Mastitis is a common condition, affecting up to one in five breastfeeding women. It is much more common in women who are breastfeeding for the first time and in women who may have had a previous episode of mastitis. Breastfeeding women with a history of breast infections, cracked nipples, or prior mastitis are at an increased risk of developing the condition.
The pain associated with mastitis can be severe. It can be described as a deep, throbbing pain that is felt in the affected breast. The pain can be constant or intermittent and may be accompanied by a feeling of pressure or fullness in the breast. In severe cases, mastitis can cause the breast to become very tender and swollen, making it difficult to move or sleep.
If you have mastitis, it is important to seek medical attention immediately. Mastitis treatment typically involves antibiotics, which help to clear the infection, and pain relief to relieve the symptoms. In some cases, draining the affected breast may also be necessary. If left untreated, mastitis can lead to serious complications, such as an abscess, a collection of pus in the breast tissue that may require surgical drainage.
Types of Mastitis
- Non-infectious Mastitis: This type of mastitis is caused by factors such as engorgement (an overfullness of the breast), blocked milk ducts, or injury to the breast tissue rather than by an infection. Non-infectious mastitis can cause swelling and discomfort in the breast but does not usually cause a fever.
- Infectious Mastitis: Infectious mastitis, also known as lactational mastitis, is the most common type of mastitis. It is caused by bacteria that enter the breast through a crack of skin in the nipple or a sore and can lead to an infection in the breast tissue. Infectious mastitis includes fever, chills, flu-like symptoms, breast tenderness, swelling, and pain.
Who Gets Mastitis?
Mastitis is most commonly seen in women who are breastfeeding. However, it can occur in any woman who has breast tissue. It is said that up to one in five women who are breastfeeding will develop mastitis at some point during their lactation period. Risk factors for mastitis include:
- Being a first-time mother or having a history of mastitis
- Having cracked or sore nipples
- Breastfeeding for an extended period
- Poor lactation management practices, such as not draining the breast adequately or skipping feedings
- Engorgement or blockages in the milk ducts
- A weakened immune system
It is important to keep note that women who are not breastfeeding can also potentially develop mastitis, although it is less common. In these cases, the condition is typically caused by a non-infectious cause, such as injury to the breast tissue or a blocked milk duct.
Stages of Mastitis
The stages of mastitis can be described as follows:
- Initial symptoms: The early signs of mastitis may include breast tenderness, swelling, and pain. Some women may also experience a feeling of pressure or fullness in the affected breast. At this stage, it is important to seek prompt medical attention and to begin treatment to prevent the spread of infection.
- Development of infection: If left untreated, the initial symptoms of mastitis can progress to an actual disease in the breast tissue. The woman may develop a fever and flu-like symptoms at this stage, and the breast may become red and warm to the touch.
- Spread of infection: If the infection is not treated promptly, it can spread to other parts of the breast, causing further swelling, pain, and tenderness. In severe cases, the woman may develop an abscess, which results in a collection of pus in the breast tissue.
- Recovery: With prompt and appropriate treatment, most women with mastitis will recover fully and experience no long-term effects. Treatment typically involves antibiotics, which help to clear the infection, pain relief to relieve symptoms, and measures to improve milk flow and prevent engorgement. In severe cases, draining the affected breast may also be necessary.
Can You Breastfeed With Mastitis?
It is very important to seek medical attention promptly if you think you have mastitis, as prompt treatment is important to prevent the spread of infection and to prevent complications. If you are breastfeeding, it is also important to continue breastfeeding on the affected side, as this can help avoid engorgement and improve milk flow.
What Are The Symptoms of Mastitis?
The signs and symptoms of mastitis can include:
- Breast tenderness: The affected breast may feel tender, swollen, and sore to the touch.
- Pain: Women with mastitis may experience a dull or sharp pain in the affected breast, which may worsen during feedings.
- Redness and warmth: The skin on the affected breast may be red and warm to the touch, indicating inflammation and infection.
- Flu-like symptoms: Women with mastitis may experience flu-like symptoms, including fever, chills, and fatigue.
- Swelling: The affected breast may become swollen and hard, making it difficult to drain the breast adequately.
- Nipple discharge: The woman may notice a discharge from the nipple, which may be yellow or green.
The Causes of Mastitis
Mastitis is caused by an infection of the breast tissue, usually by bacteria that enter through a crack or sore in the nipple. The most common and prime cause of infectious mastitis is Staphylococcus aureus, a type of bacteria commonly found on the skin.
The following factors can potentially increase a woman’s risk of developing mastitis:
- Cracked or sore nipples: A crack or aching in the nipple can provide a pathway for bacteria to enter the breast tissue and cause an infection.
- Engorgement or blocked milk ducts: Engorgement, or an overfullness of the breast, can cause the milk ducts in the breast to become blocked, leading to the accumulation of milk in the breast tissue. This can make it difficult for the woman to drain the breast adequately and increase the risk of infection.
- Poor lactation management: Skipping feedings or not draining the breast adequately can increase the risk of engorgement and blockages in the milk ducts and may increase the risk of developing mastitis.
- A weakened immune system: Women who have a weakened immune system, such as those taking immunosuppressive medications, are at an increased risk of mastitis.
- Other factors: Other factors that may increase a woman’s risk of developing mastitis include stress, fatigue, and an overall lack of sleep.
How Mastitis Can Be Diagnosed?
Mastitis is usually diagnosed based on a physical examination of the affected breast and a review of the woman’s symptoms. The healthcare provider may also take a breast milk sample or order laboratory tests to determine the type of bacteria causing the infection.
To diagnose mastitis, the healthcare provider will typically perform a physical examination of the affected breast and ask about the woman’s symptoms, including the duration and severity of the pain, the presence of flu-like symptoms, and the appearance of the affected breast.
In some cases, the healthcare provider may also take a breast milk sample for culture and sensitivity testing to determine the type of bacteria causing the infection and the appropriate treatment. The woman may also have a blood test to check for levels of an elevated white blood cell count, which can indicate an infection.
Based on the readings of the physical examination, laboratory tests, and the woman’s symptoms, the healthcare provider will determine the diagnosis of mastitis and the appropriate treatment.
How to Treat Mastitis?
Treatment for mastitis typically involves antibiotics to treat the infection and pain relief to manage the pain and discomfort. The following are the common treatments for mastitis:
- Antibiotics: Antibiotics are prescribed to treat the underlying bacterial infection.
- Pain relief: Pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil), can manage the pain and discomfort associated with mastitis.
- Warm compresses: Placing a warm compress softly on the affected breast can help to improve blood flow, reduce swelling, and relieve pain.
- Drainage of the affected breast mastitis: If there is a blockage in the milk duct, it may be necessary to manually drain the affected breast to remove the accumulated milk and reduce engorgement.
- Rest: Women with mastitis should rest as much as possible and avoid activities that can cause further mastitis breast engorgement, such as skipping feedings or wearing tight-fitting bras.
- Continuing to breastfeed: Women who are breastfeeding should continue to breastfeed on the affected side, as this can help to prevent engorgement and improve milk flow.
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Self Care Tips for Prevention of Mastitis!
To prevent mastitis, the following self-care measures can be taken:
- Change breastfeeding positions: Alternating mastitis breastfeeding positions can help ensure that all breast areas are emptied and prevent blockages in the milk ducts.
- Avoid skipping feedings: Skipping feedings can cause engorgement and increase the risk of mastitis.
- Wear a supportive bra: Wearing a supportive bra that fits properly can help to prevent engorgement and reduce pressure on the milk ducts and is an effective mastitis home treatment.
- Avoid tight-fitting clothing: Tight-fitting clothing, such as bras and clothing that presses on the breasts, can cause engorgement and increase the risk of mastitis.
- Treat cracked or sore nipples: Cracked or sore nipples can increase the risk of infection, so it is important to treat them promptly using home remedies for mastitis and keep the nipples clean and dry.
When to Call the Doctor
It is rather important to seek prompt medical attention if you experience the following signs or symptoms of mastitis:
- Pain or swelling in the breast: Pain or swelling in the breast can indicate an infection or blockage in the milk ducts.
- Redness or warmth in the breast: Redness or warmth in the breast can indicate an infection or inflammation.
- Flu-like symptoms: include fever, chills, or fatigue, which can indicate a bacterial infection.
- Increased pain or swelling after a period of improved symptoms: If the symptoms worsen or do not improve after a period of improvement, this can indicate a more serious infection.
- Nipple discharge: Nipple discharge that is yellow or green or contains pus can indicate an infection.
- Foul-smelling milk: Foul-smelling milk can indicate an infection or blockage in the milk ducts.
Help at Ongo Care Team
- Medical evaluation: Our healthcare providers can perform a physical examination and also review your medical history to diagnose mastitis and determine the best course of treatment.
- Prescription of antibiotics: If a bacterial infection causes mastitis, our healthcare providers can prescribe mastitis antibiotics to treat the infection.
- Pain management: Our healthcare providers can recommend over-the-counter pain relievers or prescribe prescription pain medication to help manage the pain and discomfort associated with mastitis.
- Education on self-care measures: Our healthcare providers can educate you on self-care measures to prevent mastitis, such as frequent breastfeeding, proper positioning during breastfeeding, and wearing a supportive bra.
- Follow-up care: Our healthcare providers can provide follow-up care to monitor your progress and ensure that the infection has been fully treated and the symptoms have resolved.