Mastitis is an inflammation of the breast tissue. It can either be due to an infection or due to a blocked duct. It most commonly affects women who are breast-feeding, but it can also occur in men and women who are not breastfeeding. It is known as lactational mastitis that is accompanied by flu-like symptoms.
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Even though it is uncomfortable for the mother, it is advised to continue breastfeeding the baby as it is helpful in clearing the infection. Most often the treatment of mastitis includes the use of antibiotics for a course of 10-12 days that helps in clearing the infection and relieving the symptoms of fever and soreness. This should also be accompanied by proper techniques of breastfeeding and avoiding smoking that can lead to nipple damage especially in the lactating women.
A blocked milk duct is the most common cause of mastitis. When milk is not frequently and efficiently removed from the breast it can lead to clogging of the milk duct, which further blocks the milk from flowing and leads to its buildup resulting in the formation of a painful lump. It can also occur when bacteria enters the milk duct through a cracked nipple leading to an infection. The most common organisms leading to mastitis are Staphylococcus aureus, Staphylococcus albus, Escherichia coli and Streptococcus aureus.
The condition affects a total of one-third of the women with symptoms occurring in the first three months of initiation of breastfeeding. It is most common in women in the age group of 21 to 35 years old with the highest risk being in women between the ages of 30 to 34 years. Almost 40-55 % of women who have had mastitis in the past are most likely to have it again in the future. Women who are working full time are also at a higher risk of developing mastitis due to increased intervals of voiding of breast milk and in between pumping that can lead to stasis of milk in the milk duct. Any trauma or injury to the breast can lead to ductal damage and infection. Improper breastfeeding techniques, undue stress, and smoking are other risk factors leading to mastitis.
A woman suffering from mastitis will present with tenderness and swelling in the breasts. There can be one or more lumps in the breasts with redness on the overlying skin. The affected area will be warm or hot to touch with extreme breast pain and burning sensation while breastfeeding and sometimes even when not breastfeeding.
Flu-like symptoms are present that include fever over 101 degrees Fahrenheit or more with chills and fatigue.
Mastitis without infection is found over a widespread area whereas a clogged duct usually occurs in a localized area. Both these conditions will present with the same signs and symptoms of redness swelling and pain, but in case of mastitis the symptoms are more severe. When there is an infection present flu like symptoms are also seen.
Treatment And Management Of Mastitis
It is important to seek medical help immediately if you notice any painful lumps or nipple damage, because if not treated on time it can to pus accumulation/formation of an abscess. A short course of 10 to 14 days of antibiotics is recommended along with an analgesic to relieve the symptoms. The improvement in symptoms is seen within three days but it is important to take the whole course of medicine to prevent the recurrence of mastitis.
Home care is important to prevent mastitis and an efficient breastfeeding technique goes a long way in minimizing risk of mastitis. Cold compresses and ice packs help in soothing the breasts post breast- feeding. A hot bath or shower helps in increasing circulation to the breast area. Some natural remedies such as use of garlic and cabbage have been very useful due to their anti-inflammatory properties.
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