Mastitis, or Breast Infection
Breast infection, or mastitis, can occur at any age, but is most common in breastfeeding women. Early symptoms of mastitis include breast pain, skin redness (often shaped like a wedge). It can also present with a painful lump in the breast, with overlying red skin, breast swelling and flu-like symptoms.
Don’t confuse this with breast engorgement, which is not usually accompanied by prominent skin redness, heat and fever.
True mastitis is a bacterial infection, and if you have fever and marked skin redness you will need antibiotics. Without antibiotics, it may develop into a breast abscess (a collection of pus), which will need to be drained.
Non-breastfeeding women can also get the same type of mastitis, and it is treated in the same way.
Other types of mastitis are much less common. Periductal mastitis and granulomatous mastitis are two of them. The actual causes of these conditions are unknown, but women who smoke are more likely to get periductal mastitis.
Women who have persisting symptoms of mastitis should see a doctor to get them assessed and ensure they don’t develop into an abscess.
It is also very important for your breast specialist to exclude a very rare form of cancer called inflammatory carcinoma (or inflammatory breast cancer). Inflammatory breast cancer presents with generalised breast redness, swelling and firmness, but not symptoms of mastitis, such as fever.