Breast infections

If you feel a lump in your breast, phone your doctor.
If you feel a lump in your breast, phone your doctor.
Breast infections are not as common as they used to be. Those who do get infections are:
  • Neonates
  • Breastfeeding women
  • Non-breastfeeding women
  • Women with diseases such as diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis which make them more susceptible to infections in general

Some terms used in breast infections

  • Mastitis: Inflammation of the breast tissue. This may be due to an infection or other causes (see periductal mastitis).
  • Abscess: collection of pus. This needs to be drained. Sometimes it can be done with a needle. Sometimes an operation is necessary.

Neonatal infections

Occasionally, there may be a little bud of breast tissue present in a new born baby and this, rarely, can become infected. Usually, the infection can be treated with antibiotics. Very rarely, a small operation may be necessary to drain the breast.

Breastfeeding mastitis

Breastfeeding may lead to the nipple getting cracked and allowing infection to get into the breast. Mastitis is generalised infection of the breast tissue. The woman may get a very swollen, tender breast and breastfeeding may become painful. It usually occurs in the first six weeks of breastfeeding or during the weaning period.

Treatment is generally with antibiotics. Occasionally, an abscess may develop. If this occurs, it requires drainage. This may be done with a needle or sometimes needs an operation. The woman should keep breastfeeding until the infection settles down. The infant is not harmed by the infection.

Breast infections which are not associated with breastfeeding

These infections may be around the nipple or may be away from the nipple in the main part of the breast.

In general, abscesses may be treated with needle drainage of the pus and antibiotics. Occasionally, this does not get rid of the complete infection and then an operation may be necessary. After this, the infection may get completely better or may go on to form a draining sinus. If this happens, an operation will be necessary to remove the underlying tissue.

Who gets recurrent breast abscesses?

  • Smokers
  • Women aged between 20 and 40
  • Women who are diabetics or have other diseases that cause them to get infections

Reviewed by Dr Jenny Edge, General Surgeon, BSc, MB BS, FRCS (Edin), M Med (Stell.)

Last updated: 16/9/2004

Read more:
Nipple discharge and its causes

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