Mastitis is inflammation of the breast tissue. It is a relatively common disease in women, but rarely, it can be present also in men. Usually, the condition is associated with breastfeeding.


The condition is most frequently caused by bacteria living on the skin belonging among the streptococci and staphylococci. The inflammation occurs mostly in lactating women within a few weeks after the birth. The risk factors include accumulation of milk in the breast ducts and easier infection from the child's mouth. The accumulation of milk itself can cause breast pain and non-infectious mastitis. Higher risk of mastitis is in women with weakened immunity (diabetics, women suffering from AIDS, etc.).


Mastitis can occur naturally even in non-breastfeeding women, but in such case we should be more cautious as the mastitis can be easily mistaken for one special form of the breast cancer (see below). 


The affected breast is reddish, swollen and painful when touched. In addition, the woman may experience symptoms such as fever, fatigue and other common symptoms of an infectious condition. Breastfeeding is very uncomfortable and it hurts. The redness and pain of a breast can also occur in the so-called inflammatory breast cancer. It is rather rare, but a very dangerous form of breast cancer, which is quite aggressive and due to its ability to mimic the inflammatory process, it may be underestimated and diagnosed lately.


A woman should be examined by gynecologist, especially if she is not breastfeeding. The examination usually includes physical exam, which can be supplemented by breast ultrasound, which can detect local lesions such as abscesses. When the suspected inflammation is persistent, it is advisable to perform mammography or take a sample of the tissue for histological examination.


It is not always necessary to stop the breastfeeding. On the contrary, effective breastfeeding with adequate drainage of milk causes quicker withdrawal of the symptoms. More severe cases of mastitis require administration of antibiotics. In non-breastfeeding women we can choose the antibiotics according to bacterial sensitivity, in breastfeeding women we are limited by possible undesired penetration of many antibiotics into the milk. The bacterial presence and sensitivity can be evaluated from a swab from the local skin.


Jiri Stefanek, MD  Author of texts: Jiri Stefanek, MD
 Sources: basic text sources