Mastitis means inflammation (injury from infection or irritation) of the breast tissue. Mastitis
may occur in up to a third of women who are lactating (forming
breast milk) after giving birth and is then called lactation
mastitis. When lactation mastitis is due to an infection, it is usually
caused by bacteria, although fungal (yeast) infections
can also be the cause. Most cases of lactation mastitis occur during the first
3 months postpartum (after giving birth), but it
may occur any time as long as a woman is breastfeeding. When mastitis is severe,
an abscess (collection of pus from an infection)
may develop in the breast. The April 2, 2003, issue of JAMA includes an article
about lactation mastitis.
Malaise (feeling tired and unwell)
Reddened area of the breast, usually wedge-shaped
Warmth or tenderness of the breast
Pain with nursing (can also be caused by sore or cracked nipples
Mastitis after a previous pregnancy
Nipple cracks or sores
Using only one position to breastfeed so the entire breast does
Tight-fitting bra that obstructs milk flow
Continue nursing and use different feeding positions
Complete, frequent emptying of the affected breast
Warm compresses or warm shower
Increase fluid intake
Antibiotics if prescribed by your doctor
Drainage of any abscess that may form
If you think you have mastitis, see your doctor. In most cases, mastitis
is easily treated. Continuing to breastfeed while you have mastitis will not
hurt your baby.
Mastitis can occur in older women who are not lactating. This form of
mastitis is called periductal mastitis. The milk
ducts near the nipple become inflamed, causing breast pain. There may also
be a breast mass near the nipple, retraction of the nipple, or discharge.
Because breast cancer can also cause these symptoms, it is important to see
your doctor if you have any of them. Treatment of periductal mastitis may
include antibiotics or surgery if the periductal mastitis is severe.
There is a form of breast cancer called inflammatory
breast cancer that can be confused with mastitis. Because inflammatory
breast cancer is fast-growing, aggressive, and deadly, it is important to
detect it early. Fever usually occurs with mastitis but rarely occurs with
inflammatory breast cancer.
National Women's Health Information Center800/994-9662http://www.4woman.gov
La Leche League847/519-7730http://www.lalecheleague.org/FAQ/mastitis.html
To find this and previous JAMA Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page
Index on JAMA's Web site at http://www.jama.com.
They are available in English and Spanish. A Patient Page on breastfeeding was published in the January
24/31, 2001, issue.
The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA. The information and
recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis.
For specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA suggests that you consult your
physician. This page may be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care
professionals to share with patients. Any other print or online reproduction is subject to AMA approval.
To purchase bulk reprints, call 718/946-7424.
Sources: La Leche League, National Women's Health Information Center
Topic: WOMEN'S HEALTH
Torpy JM, Lynm C, Glass RM. Mastitis. JAMA. 2003;289(13):1728. doi:10.1001/jama.289.23.3056