A breast abscess is an infection in the breast that progresses from breast inflammation (mastitis) and forms a pus filled pocket known as an abscess. Generally, mastitis can be treated before an abscess forms; however, once an abscess forms, antibiotics and surgical drainage is the standard course of action.
Breast infections are usually caused by the staphylococcus aureus bacteria commonly found on the skin. The bacteria enter the breast through a break in the skin. Cracks in the skin on the breast can occur with breast feeding, so mastitis is often found in breast feeding mothers.
Breast abscess symptoms begin with mastitis, or a painful, inflamed breast. The infection usually occurs only on one breast. Continued breast feeding on the affected side can help to clear up the infection. If the infection continues, a breast abscess can occur. This appears as a painful hard lump that can be red and feel hot when touched. Fever, chills and body aches may also be present. The lymph nodes on the affected side may also be swollen. If the abscess is allowed to progress, it will eventually rupture, and it may infect the surrounding area and milk ducts. Infected milk ducts are dangerous to the infant because the infection may be present in the breast milk.
The treatment for breast abscess includes antibiotics and drainage of the abscess. Sometimes the infecting staphylococcus bacterium is the antibiotic resistant MRSA strain. In this instance, stronger antibiotics are given in order to combat the infection. This is much more likely to be the case if the infection includes the milk ducts. In all cases, the abscess is drained. The pus may be tested to determine the exact bacteria causing the infection.
Women who have had a previous case of mastitis are more likely to develop a second case. Wearing a tight fitting bra may restrict the flow of milk, and increase the risk of mastitis and breast abscess. Not draining the breast during breast feeding is associated with a higher incidence of inflammation. Sore or cracked nipples can allow the bacteria to enter the body. Additionally, using only one position to breast feed may impede the breast from fully emptying, and the risk of mastitis is increased.
Breast abscess symptoms are similar to other more serious conditions. Any unexplained lump should be examined by a physician so the proper diagnosis can be made.