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An abscess is an accumulation of pus inside the body caused by infections. An infection in the breast can lead to a breast abscess, which is a common condition in lactating females.

It’s important to see a doctor to effectively treat breast infections and abscesses to prevent recurring cases.

Learn more about breast abscesses, including causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.

A breast abscess refers to a buildup of pus from an infection of your breast. An inflammation of breast tissue (mastitis) may also lead to infections.

While this condition is most common in lactating females, both non-lactating females and males may develop a breast abscess, too.

Lactating-related breast abscesses occur when an untreated infection develops, from bacteria on your skin or from your baby’s mouth. The bacteria may then enter:

  • cuts on your skin
  • cracked nipples
  • your milk ducts

The average time of onset for mastitis in lactating females is 6 weeks post-partum. Breastfeeding is also estimated to be the cause of 10 to 33 percent of breast infections.

Non-lactating females and males may also develop breast abscesses from untreated infections, although it’s not as common. These are also known as subareolar breast abscesses. Bacteria may enter the breast via:

  • cuts on breast tissues
  • nipple piercings
  • cracked nipples

Common symptoms of a breast abscess include:

  • pain
  • redness
  • swelling
  • warm skin
  • nipple drainage
  • discharge from another part of the breast

If you have an active infection, you may also have a fever and chills, along with fatigue. See a doctor if you’re experiencing these symptoms.

You should also seek medical attention if you’re currently being treated with antibiotics for a breast infection, but aren’t feeling better within 2 days.

Symptoms of a breast abscess and infection are similar. Only a doctor can determine whether you have an abscess or infection.

A healthcare professional may suspect a breast abscess based on a physical exam. They may also ask you about your health history, including whether you’ve had an abscess before.

To definitively diagnose a breast abscess, a doctor will also need to perform an imaging test called an ultrasound. If an abscess is further suspected, your doctor may then order a fine needle aspiration to collect a sample. This also helps rule out other possible causes, such as cancer or benign cysts.

Treatment for a breast abscess involves draining the area of pus.

First, your doctor will numb your skin with a local anesthetic so you don’t feel any pain. Then, they’ll remove the pus by either making a small incision and physically draining the abscess, or by removing the pus via a needle. The latter option may require multiple treatments, but is less invasive.

With either option, you can expect to go home the day of your treatment. Your doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics, and may also suggest applying warm compresses to ease any pain.

Overall, the recovery for a breast abscess can take a few days, or as long as 3 weeks. This depends on the severity of the initial infection, and whether the abscess reoccurs.

After treatment for a breast abscess, you’ll be prescribed antibiotics to prevent future infections. Take the full dosage as prescribed, even if you’re starting to feel better.

Complications from breast abscess treatment include:

  • scarring
  • changes to nipples and/or breast tissue
  • asymmetrical breasts
  • internal sores called fistulas

What about breastfeeding?

If you’re breastfeeding, ask your doctor for advice during your recovery. Some health professionals believe this can help speed up the healing process, while others are concerned about the transmission of the infection via breastmilk.

What symptoms warrant medical attention?

Call your doctor if you experience new symptoms of an infection, including:

  • pus from the site of treatment
  • redness
  • swelling
  • high fever

Complications from an untreated infection

Sometimes, an untreated infection may lead to a life-threatening complication called sepsis. This occurs as a result of the infection spreading throughout your body, including vital organs. If your doctor suspects sepsis, you’ll likely be admitted to the hospital for further treatment.

Possible signs of sepsis include:

  • fever and chills
  • clammy skin
  • high heart rate
  • low blood pressure
  • increased pain
  • confusion
  • shortness of breath
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A recurring case of a breast abscess is defined as one that occurs within 6 months of a previous case.

Treating mastitis or an infection may help reduce your risk of developing a breast abscess. However, once you have an abscess in your breast, there’s also a high chance of recurrence. It’s estimated that about 53 percent of people who have a breast abscess will have another case in the future.

Researchers believe that breast abscesses occur more frequently in smokers. Quitting smoking may reduce your risk of primary and recurring abscesses. Surgery and nipple piercings may also be linked to recurring breast infections, as well as having diabetes or being obese.

A common condition in lactating females, breast abscesses are painful accumulations of pus that develop from untreated infections. See your doctor if you have symptoms such as pain, swelling, redness, and pus in your breast.

Treatment for breast abscess involves draining the pus to improve your symptoms. You’ll also need to take antibiotics to clear up any underlying infection.

While breast abscesses can recur, there are ways to prevent future episodes. Talk with your doctor about your current lifestyle, and ask how to decrease your risk or recurrence.