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Alternative Names Return to topMastitis; Infection - breast tissue; Breast abscess
Definition Return to top
A breast infection is an infection in the tissue of the breast.
Causes Return to top
Breast infections are usually caused by a common bacteria (Staphylococcus aureus) found on normal skin. The bacteria enter through a break or crack in the skin, usually on the nipple.
The infection takes place in the fatty tissue of the breast and causes swelling. This swelling pushes on the milk ducts. The result is pain and lumps in the infected breast.
Breast infections usually occur in women who are breast-feeding. Breast infections that are not related to breast-feeding might be a rare form of breast cancer.
Symptoms Return to top
Exams and Tests Return to top
Breastfeeding women are usually not tested. Sometimes for infections that keep returning, milk from the nipple will be cultured. In women who are not breastfeeding, testing may include mammography or breast biopsy.
Treatment Return to top
Self-care may include applying moist heat to the infected breast tissue for 15 to 20 minutes four times a day.
Antibiotic medications are usually very effective in treating a breast infection. You are encouraged to continue to breast-feed or to pump to relieve breast engorgement from milk production while receiving treatment.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
The condition usually clears quickly with antibiotic therapy.
Possible Complications Return to top
In severe infections, an abscess may develop. Abscesses need to be drained, either as an office procedure or surgery. Women with abscesses may be told to temporarily stop breast-feeding.
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call your health care provider if any portion of the breast tissue becomes reddened, tender, swollen, or hot, or if the lymph nodes in the armpit become tender or swollen.
Prevention Return to top
The following may help reduce the risk of breast infections:
References Return to topNewton ER. Breast-feeding. In: Gabbe SG, Niebyl JF, Simpson JL, eds. Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Churchill Livingston Elsevier; 2007:chap 22. Update Date: 5/12/2008 Updated by: Linda Vorvick, MD, Seattle Site Coordinator, Lecturer, Pathophysiology, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine; Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Clinical Training Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine; Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Redmond, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.