Alternative Names breast abscess, mastitis, breast infection
Definition Mastitis is an inflammation and infection of the breast.
What is going on in the body? Mastitis is most common in women who are breastfeeding. Bacteria can get into the milk ducts through a crack in the nipple and cause an infection. Incomplete emptying of breast milk during feedings can contribute to the problem. Milk ducts can become blocked. A rare form of breast cancer might produce these symptoms in a woman who is not breastfeeding. Chronic mastitis is caused by hormones in the body that affect breast tissue and make the tissue swell.
What are the signs and symptoms of the infection? The symptoms of the condition include:
appearance of a red and swollen area of the breast
pain and/or discomfort in the breast
feeling of warmth in breast
high temperature or fever
What are the causes and risks of the infection? A severe infection can lead to the development of a breast abscess, or collection of pus in an area of breast tissue. A breast abscess might need to be drained surgically. The woman might be advised to discontinue breastfeeding in this instance.
What can be done to prevent the infection? Mastitis prevention includes :
breastfeeding equally from both breasts
expressing breast milk if away from the baby during regular feeding times
drinking adequate fluids
washing hands prior to breastfeeding
working with a breastfeeding consultant as needed to be sure that good feeding techniques are used
How is the infection diagnosed? Diagnosis is made by taking a detailed history and physical examination.
A culture may be done of the breast milk or the skin surface to confirm mastitis. Mammography or breast biopsy might be needed for diagnosis in non-breastfeeding women.
What are the long-term effects of the infection? Long term effects depend upon the underlying cause. For breastfeeding women with mastitis, the condition usually clears quickly with antibiotic medication. All of the prescribed antibiotic should be taken as directed to keep the infection from returning later.
What are the treatments for the infection? If possible, breastfeeding or using a breast pump to express milk should be continued. This keeps the milk ducts of the breast open. Wearing a well-fitted nursing bra will help reduce excessive swelling. A doctor may prescribe an antibiotic as well as a analgesia until the infection is under control. Application of warm compresses may also help. Symptoms usually subside in 2-3 days after treatment.
What are the side effects of the treatments? If breastfeeding is continued, the doctor should make sure that any drugs used are safe for the baby. Antibiotics can cause allergic reactions and stomach upset; other side effects depend upon the antibiotic used.
What happens after treatment for the infection? If the breast remains tender and a fever is still present, a doctor should be contacted immediately. The best way to avoid mastitis is to stay healthy; plenty of rest and a balanced diet are important.
How is the infection monitored? A follow-up appointment with a doctor is important to make sure the condition is improving.
Author: Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia Last Updated: 1/10/2001 Contributors Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request
This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice. All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.