A – Z of Illnesses & Conditions

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Mastitis: Mastitis is a condition that causes a woman's breast tissue to become painful and inflamed. Mastitis usually only affects one breast, and symptoms often develop quickly and can include:
  •     a red, swollen area on your breast that may feel hot and painful to touch
  •     a breast lump or area of hardness on your breast
  •     a burning pain in your breast that may be continuous, or may only occur when you are breastfeeding
  •     nipple discharge, which may be white or contain streaks of blood
You may also experience flu-like symptoms, such as aches, a high temperature (fever), chills and tiredness.
Mastitis most commonly affects women who are breastfeeding (lactation breastfeeding) although sometimes this condition can occur in women who are not breastfeeding.

In most cases lactation mastitis occurs within the first three months after giving birth but it can happen later during breastfeeding. The condition can leave you feeling exhausted and run-down, making it difficult to care for your baby. Sometimes mastitis leads a mother to wean her baby before she intends to. But you can continue breastfeeding while you have mastitis.

In breastfeeding women, mastitis is often caused by a build-up of milk within the breast. This is known as milk stasis and can occur for a number of reasons, including:
  •     a baby not properly attaching to the breast during feeding
  •     a baby having problems sucking
  •     infrequent feeds or missing feeds
In some cases, this build-up of milk can also become infected with bacteria. This is known as infective mastitis.
In non-breastfeeding women, mastitis most often occurs when the breast becomes infected as a result of damage to the nipple, such as a cracked or sore nipple, or a nipple piercing.

If you think you might have mastitis it's important to see your doctor promptly because there is a risk that mastitis could lead to a breast abscess (a painful collection of pus), which may need to be drained surgically.

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