Mastitis, commonly called breast infection or mammitis, is an infection in the tissue of the breast caused by Staphylococcus aureus, a bacterium that lives on the skin and mucous membranes. The bacterium penetrates the breast through a crack in the nipple causing pain, swelling and redness.
Scientists call the disease puerperal mastitis when it affects women who are breast-feeding, and non-puerperal mastitis when it occurs in newborn, men (rare) or non-lactating women.
Mastitis can be acute or chronic:
Acute Mastitis – this type of infection occurs mostly in early breastfeeding, but can also be caused by mumps virus, a type of virus belonging to the genus Paramyxovirus family. It can also be a sign of breast cancer or hormonal disorder (puberty, newborn, etc.). Though rare, the disease can affect newborn and adolescents.
Chronic Mastitis – this medical condition is due to endocrinal disruption (hormonal changes) or repeated bacterial infections in the mammary gland.
Mastitis Causes and Risk Factors
On your skin live hundreds of kinds of bacteria. Mastitis develops when these bacteria on the surface of the breast enter your nipple through small cracks. Among these bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus is often responsible for this type of infection. They multiply in the fatty breast tissue surrounding the lactiferous ducts causing swelling and pain.
Although mastitis can develop in any woman, it is more common among women who breast-feeding. However, the infection can occur in women who do not have crack on their skin when the milk blocks the lactiferous ducts causing uncontrolled growth of bacteria in the breast tissue.
The symptoms may vary from one person to another depending on age or hormonal factors. Thus, in adolescents, besides pain, the breast engorgement can be accompanied with fatigue and Body aches. Usually, those symptoms disappear in one or two weeks. During breastfeeding, women may suffer from swelling, pain, redness and burning sensation of the breast. As in adolescents, nursing women can feel body aches, fatigue and high fever (101° and above). Sometimes, breast abscess can occur.
Because inflammatory breast cancer can produce similar symptoms, it is very important for women to seek advice of a health care professional if they see any of those symptoms above.
What is the diagnosis of breast infectioin?
To diagnose patients with this type of infection, most doctors use mammography, ultrasound and sometimes biopsy (taking a sample of the breast tissue to analyze under microscope). Without those medical tests, it is difficult for a doctor to know if this is mastitis or inflammatory breast cancer; since they present similar symptoms.
However, it is not always safe to use those tests for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. To determine if the condition is mastitis or not, the doctor can do physical examination, look in the medical record and ask the patient questions about her experience with the symptoms.
Acute Mastitis is effectively treated with antibiotic. In minor infection, massaging and application of moist heat, such as hot baths, steamed towels or moist heating packs to the infected breast tissue for 15 to 20 minutes 3 to 4 times a day for one or two weeks are enough to cure the pain and inflammation. To avoid reoccurrence, the treatment should be taken completely or until complete recovery.
If symptoms are severe, hormonotherapy may be required in the treatment. Administration of progesterone such as Danazol (a synthetic steroid) is shown to give good result in most patients.
Usually, breastfeeding is not proscribed during the treatment. It is encouraged in order to facilitate the drainage of the breast and prevent abscess. However, if there is abscess or pus, breast-feeding should be interrupted in the infected breast. Emptying the inflamed breast and keep breast-feeding during the treatment is the better way to prevent engorgement.
Mastitis is not always preventive, but the following tips can help mastitis victims:
- Breastfeeding your baby frequently (even at night);
- Ensure the correct position of the baby’s mouth when breastfeeding;
- Avoid cigarette smoke, including second hand smoke;
- Avoid sleeping on your breasts, or allowing your baby to sleep on them;
- Avoid Exercising without a support bra;
- Breastfeed equally from both breasts;
- Avoid carrying heavy objects on your shoulders;
- Try to wear well-fitted nursing bras;
- Wash hands prior to breast-feeding;
- Avoiding restrictive clothing or objects over the breast
- Empty your breast every time it is necessary;
- Hydrate your body by drinking plenty of water and natural juice daily;
- Practice good personal hygiene by Taking good care of your breast