They may play second fiddle to the big “C” in terms of public attention, but fibrocystic breast changes, mastitis and nipple discharge impact the lives of millions of women.
According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately half of all women undergo fibrocystic breast changes. Fibroids are made of tissue and may be hard or rubbery feeling, while cysts are typically at least partially filled with fluid and may change in size as your hormone levels shift during your menstrual cycle, pregnancy or menopause.
These changes may cause breasts to be tender or feel thick or lumpy. You may find fibroids or cysts during a breast-self exam or they may show up on a routine screening by your healthcare provider. Imaging or a biopsy can be used to confirm findings and help rule out cancer.
If you have fibrocystic breast disease, wearing a supportive bra, avoiding stimulants—such as caffeine—and undergoing hormone therapy may help alleviate the symptoms. Your physician can help diagnose this problem and recommend treatment based on the severity of the case.
Sore nipples, pain in one breast and fever are all common symptoms of mastitis, an infection in the breast. Approximately 10 percent of breastfeeding women get mastitis, but it is possible for any woman to get it.
Breastfeeding frequently and fully emptying breasts of milk are thought to help reduce incidents of mastitis. Ongoing support from a lactation consultant can help you learn new techniques to optimize breastfeeding. Blocked ducts are another cause.
Mothers are encouraged to continue breastfeeding if they have mastitis. It can help prevent complications such as abscesses. In addition to taking good care of yourself by eating well, drinking enough water and getting a lot of sleep, your physician will likely recommend oral antibiotics to clear up the infection. Be sure to take the entire course of medication, even if you are feeling better, to avoid recurring illness.
Discharge coming from one or both nipples may be caused by certain medications, pregnancy, small noncancerous growths called intraductal pailloma, hypothyroidism, injury to the breast or a host of other reasons. Sometimes, it even occurs in babies soon after birth, a condition called “witch’s milk” that is caused by mother’s hormones and clears up on its own in a few weeks.
Your physician can perform imaging and blood tests in adults to identify the cause of this discharge and recommend an appropriate treatment plan, which may include medication or surgery. It’s important to talk with your physician about nipple discharge since it may be a sign of a more serious health concern.
This article was reviewed by Susan Benson, M.D., F.A.C.O.G., OB/GYN with St.Vincent Medical Group.