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What Are the Different Types of Mastitis?

By Melissa Barrett
Updated May 17, 2024
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Mastitis is generally categorized as either puerperal, or occurring in lactation, or nonpuerperal. In lactating women, the condition is common. While painful, the infection is easily treated and fairly harmless. When the condition occurs in nonlactating individuals with no apparent mode of transmission, however, more testing is indicated.

Puerperal mastitis is the most common form of breast infection. This term can be confusing, however, as it points to the fact that the patient is pregnant or lactating rather than the specific cause of the infection. Most frequently, these infections are caused by various bacteria that have entered the breast during breast feeding. Once inside the warm, moist milk ducts, the bacteria reproduce quickly.

There is no evidence that suggests that infants are harmed by nursing from a mother with mastitis. So, while nursing with mastitis may be uncomfortable, stopping is not usually encouraged. Conversely, some doctors believe that breast feeding will relieve some of the symptoms and hasten recovery.

Infection of breast tissue is far less common in nonlactating women. Although these infections are generally easily treatable, they may point to a more serious underlying condition. Most frequently, nonpuerperal mastitis will be further labeled as ductal ectasia. This diagnosis is essentially another synonym for breast infection and points to no specific causation.

Most frequently, ductal estasia presents as a small or tender area on the breast, which may or may not be accompanied by nipple discharge. This type of mastitis is generally brought on by changes in the constancy of the breast. These changes, which often occur as a natural part of the aging process, can result in blocked milk ducts and subsequent infection. Rarely however, these changes may be indications of abnormal growths in nearby breast tissue. As such, patients who present with even uncomplicated and mild cases of ductus estasia may be referred to mammogram or ultrasound testing.

Regardless of the cause, the symptoms of mastitis are fairly universal. Most patients with the condition report moderate to severe pain and swollen breasts that are very warm to the touch. Nipple discharge, ranging in color from white to black, is also frequently noted. Flu-like symptoms, including fatigue and fever, are common as well.

Although rare, a breast abscess may occur in patients with mastitis. This happens when bacteria pool inside a hollow area of the breast. Abscesses are extremely painful and frequently require removal of the bacteria with a needle. Antibiotics are generally prescribed to these patients.

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