What is breast abscess?

Breast Abscess

Breast abscess: Overview

An abscess is a pocket of pus formed by infection. Breast abscesses are most common in women who are breastfeeding. You can usually continue to breastfeed your baby in spite of a breast abscess. It will not harm your baby. If your doctor advises you to stop breastfeeding on the affected breast while it heals, you can continue breastfeeding from the healthy breast.

Sometimes antibiotics are used to treat a breast abscess. If antibiotics do not cure the abscess, it may need to be drained through a small cut (incision).

You may have had a sedative to help you relax. You may be unsteady after having sedation. It can take a few hours for the medicine's effects to wear off. Common side effects of sedation include nausea, vomiting, and feeling sleepy or tired.

The doctor has checked you carefully, but problems can develop later. If you notice any problems or new symptoms, get medical treatment right away.

What are the symptoms of a breast abscess?

Symptoms of a breast abscess include a breast lump that is hard and painful and a reddened area on the breast. You may also have flu-like symptoms that are getting worse.

How is a breast abscess treated?

Treatment for a breast abscess includes:

  • Draining the abscess. Healing can take 5 to 7 days.
  • Antibiotics that you take by mouth. They destroy the bacteria that are causing the infection. Antibiotics are given through a vein (intravenously) only in rare cases of severe infection.
  • Emptying the breast regularly and completely by breastfeeding or pumping. This is also very important for keeping a good milk supply.

Most women can keep breastfeeding with the affected breast while an abscess heals. With your doctor's approval, you can cover the abscess area with a light gauze dressing while you breastfeed.

If you are told to stop breastfeeding from the affected breast while an abscess heals, you can keep breastfeeding from the healthy breast. Be sure to pump or express milk from the infected breast regularly.

How is a breast abscess diagnosed?

Your doctor can diagnose a breast abscess by checking your breast. If an abscess is too deep to check by touching it, your doctor may use a breast ultrasound. Ultrasound can also guide a needle to drain the abscess. A culture can then be done to identify the bacteria that are causing the abscess.

How can you care for yourself when you have a breast abscess?

  • If the doctor gave you a sedative:
    • For 24 hours, don't do anything that requires attention to detail. This includes going to work, making important decisions, and signing any legal documents. It takes time for the medicine's effects to completely wear off.
    • For your safety, do not drive or operate any machinery that could be dangerous. Wait until the medicine wears off and you can think clearly and react easily.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • If your doctor drained the abscess, you may have a tube or gauze in the abscess to allow it to continue draining. Follow your doctor's instructions on bathing and caring for the wound.
  • If you are breastfeeding, continue breastfeeding or pumping breast milk, as your doctor advises. It is important to empty your breasts regularly. But your doctor may advise you to discard the milk from the affected breast until the abscess heals.
    • Before breastfeeding, place a warm, wet washcloth over the breast for about 15 minutes. Try this at least 3 times a day.
    • If pus is no longer draining from the abscess, breastfeed on both sides.
    • Gently massage your breast to stimulate milk flow.
    • Pump or hand-express a small amount of breast milk before breastfeeding if your breasts are too full with milk or if it hurts too much to nurse. This will make your breasts less full and may make it easier for your baby to nurse.
    • Try feeding from the healthy breast. Then, after your milk is flowing, breastfeed from the affected breast until it feels soft.
  • Be safe with medicines. Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If your doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
    • Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless your doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • Put ice or a cold pack on your breast for 10 to 15 minutes at a time to reduce pain and swelling. If you are breastfeeding, do this between feedings. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
  • If pus is draining from your infected breast, wash the nipple gently and let it air-dry before you put your bra back on. A disposable breast pad placed in the bra cup will help absorb the pus.

Breast abscess: When to call

Call 911anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have trouble breathing.
  • You passed out (lost consciousness).

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or worse nausea or vomiting.
  • Your symptoms of infection get worse. This may include:
    • Increased pain, swelling, redness, or warmth around a breast.
    • Red streaks extending from the breast.
    • Pus draining from a breast.
    • A new or higher fever.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.