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Mastitis

The commonest breast disorder is mastitis. There is usually tenderness and discomfort or pain in the breasts, sometimes with some enlargement, and the breasts feel nodular, with lumpy areas. The symptoms are often worse before a period. 'Mastitis' is a misnomer as the breasts are no! in­fected or inflamed, but are responding to hormonal stimuli which make the glands enlarge and become tender. The condition is harmless, and can be eased by pain-relievers and sometimes by diuretics. At times, one of these nodular areas may become a discrete lump that can be felt and sometimes seen. Usually such lumps are quite small, often pea-sized and hard, and just under the skin. These are caused by fibrous changes in the milk-producing glands, and are called fibroadenoma, or 'breast mice' and are harmless, often disappearing after one or two menstrual cycles. Larger lumps may be due to cysts in one of the glands; these are often tender and can be drained.

Causes

A breast becomes engorged when there is a rapid increase in the milk supply and the milk is not completely drained in nursing. Breasts will feel tender and hard. Engorgement can also occur when the milk ducts are plugged. There may be spots of dried milk on ducts, which should be cleaned from the nipple.

Signs and symptoms

The symptoms of mastitis may be quite severe, and can include:

  • High temperature
  • Redness, swelling, and hardening in the affected breast 
  • Severe breast pain when pressed
  • Enlarged and tender lymph nodes in the armpit
  • General aches and pains, and headache.

Treatment

Self-care may include applying moist heat to the infected breast tissue for 15 to 20 minutes four times a day.

Antibiotic medications are usually very effective in treating a breast infection. You are encouraged to continue to breast-feed or to pump to relieve breast engorgement (from milk production) while receiving treatment.

Gently massaging your breast before and during breast feeding will help drain your milk. This will also help prevent engorgement.

Treat sore and cracked nipples: The most important way to treat sore or cracked nipples is to find out why you are having them. Caregivers will help you find out if positioning, latching-on, or infection is the cause, and help you treat it.

Prevention

Good breast care, especially after delivery and while breast-feeding, may reduce the risk of breast infections.

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