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Mastitis (non-breastfeeding)

Page last reviewed: 13/07/2011

Mastitis is a condition that causes breast tissue to become painful and inflamed (red and swollen). As mastitis often occurs in women who are breastfeeding, the condition is often referred to as lactation mastitis or puerperal mastitis.

See the Health A-Z topic about Mastitis, breastfeeding for information about this condition.
There are two different types of mastitis that affect women who are not breastfeeding. These are:

  • periductal mastitis, which usually affects women who are in their late 20s and early 30s, and is more common among smokers
  • duct ectasia, which tends to affect women in the years before the menopause (when a woman's periods stop), or after the menopause

Both types of mastitis are usually caused by an infection.

The symptoms of mastitis in women who are not breastfeeding include:

  • redness of the breast
  • pain in the breast
  • hard parts (lumps) in the breast
  • nipple discharge - which may be white or may contain streaks of blood


You should always see your GP if you notice any changes to your breasts, such as lumps or a discharge from your nipples. These could be a sign of breast cancer, although in nine out of 10 cases breast lumps are benign (non-cancerous). See the Health A-Z topic about breast lumps for more information.

Your GP will carry out a physical examination of your breasts and may ask you questions, such as if there is a family history of the condition, to determine whether breast cancer is likely. If cancer is a possibility, you may be referred to a specialist breast clinic (see Breast cancer - diagnosis).

However, if your GP diagnoses mastitis, it can be treated with antibiotics (medication to treat infections that are caused by bacteria). In more serious cases, you may need to have further tests or treatments such as:

  • an ultrasound scan - where high frequency sound waves are used to create an image of your breasts
  • tests on the discharge from your nipples to determine what type of cells it contains 
  • surgery to remove the ducts (the tubes that transport milk) below the nipple

Inflammation is the body's response to infection, irritation or injury, which causes redness, swelling, pain and sometimes a feeling of heat in the affected area.


Content provided by NHS Choices www.nhs.uk and adapted for Ireland by the Health A-Z.

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