Breast abscesses is a condition where there is an accumulation of pus-swollen lump on the skin caused by a bacterial infection. It is a common complication faced by patients who are dealing with or have dealt with mastitis in the past. Research shows that one in ten women are affected by this infection, especially new mothers who have to breastfeed their babies. Breast abscesses can be very painful and tend to recur if you have not completed the antibiotics medicine course prescribed by the doctor;

Read on to know more about this condition and how you can tackle it. We present to you a comprehensive guide that discusses the various treatments, medications and preventive measures for patients with breast abscesses;

What Causes Breast Abscesses?

One of the primary causes behind breast abscesses is a bacterial infection. It leads to the collection of pus on the skin which in turn can cause inflammation, rashes and painful lumps on the surface of the breast. Bacteria mainly enters the breast during breastfeeding, or through the cracks in the nipples or the areola. Mastitis, a medical condition where the milk ducts are blocked by a bacterial infection, can also cause breast abscesses if left unchecked for long.

Other causes behind breast abscesses are;

  • External injury to the breast such as a cut or a bruise
  • Cracked or injured nipples
  • Nipple piercing can also cause a bacterial infection
  • Breast implants and other surgeries
  • High sugar and high blood pressure
  • Wearing tight bras or corsets
  • Weaning the baby quickly and unsteadily
  • Obesity
  • Habits such as smoking and consuming alcohol

Note that just because young breastfeeding mothers are susceptible to breast abscesses, other women cannot suffer from this condition. We would recommend you get regular checkups every once a while, especially if you notice any swelling, redness or pain in the breasts

Common Signs And Symptoms

There are several tell-tale signs are early symptoms that you should look out for which can lead to breast abscesses and even inflammatory cancer if left undetected. Breast abscesses caused during breastfeeding is called lactational breast abscesses- where pus collects inside the breast tissues leaving swollen lumps that are visible on the surface. We would recommend you consult your doctor immediately if you come across these symptoms listed below;

  • Tenderness around the areolas and nipples
  • Swollen lumps in and around the breast.
  • Intense pain and discomfort in the affected area
  • Inflammation, rashes, and redness in and around the breasts
  • Fever, chills and general nausea
  • Muscle cramps, body ache, and fatigue
  • Malaise  

Breast abscesses if untreated can also lead to cancer and other fatal health risks. All women between ages 15-45 years are susceptible to breast abscesses and other breast-related conditions, so get regular checkups and contact your gynecologist asap if you notice any or all of these signs. If you are looking for a reliable and credible healthcare centre for treatment, then Apollo Cradle Jayanagar is a smart option. The hospital is equipped with the medical tools, a team of dedicated doctors, nurses and staff and has enough experience in dealing with such cases to ensure a high success rate.

The Health Risks Involved

Breast abscesses though a fairly common condition and easily detectable can lead up to some major health concerns if aggravated. A significant health risk would be breast cancer that can be fatal if untreated. Other health risks involved with breast abscesses are ;

  • Breast hypoplasia: is a rare condition where insufficient glandular tissue or IGT can cause little to no milk production and underdeveloped mammary glands
  • Sepsis: Sepsis is a life-threatening condition when the body is unable to fight the bacterial or viral infection. It is caused when the chemicals and hormones released to fight infections aggravates the damage.
  • Scarring: scarring occurs in and around the breast because of the accumulation of fat in the breast tissue. Though not fatal, scarring can lead to breast cancer if left unchecked
  • Fistula: Zukas disease is a rare condition caused by breast duct fistulas and recurrent breast abscesses in and around the nipples.
  • Functional mastectomy: mastectomy or removal of mammary tissues, nipples, and areolas from both the breasts is usually the last resort to treat breasts abscesses
  • Necrotizing fasciitis: aka the flesh-eating disease is another threat associated with extreme cases of breast abscesses.

These health risks are caused by extreme cases and can prove to be quite life-threatening. If you experience any of the above-mentioned symptoms contact your doctor immediately before things got worse.

Is Breastfeeding Safe With An Abscesses?

It is safe for women who are suffering from mastitis to continue breastfeeding their babies from both breasts. In fact, with regular breastfeeding, the milk ducts would clear faster and relieve you of the pain and discomfort you had to otherwise suffer through. Usually, a gentle massage or a warm compress is recommended to stimulate milk flow.

However, in the case of breast abscesses, breastfeeding can become quite painful for the mother. Most doctors recommend patients with breast abscesses to use a breast pump rather than allow the baby to latch on to the breast directly. So, yes, breastfeeding is possible if you are suffering from breast abscesses only as long as it doesn’t block the milk duct or become unbearably painful.

Consult your doctor or breastfeeding nurse for professional advice on which approach you should opt for so as to prevent the risk of breast abscesses or mastitis in the future.

Treatment And Diagnosis

What starts out as a small lump in the breasts the size of a pimple might grow to become a dangerous and possibly fatal condition for women if left undetected. Don’t worry though, breast abscesses are treatable. Doctors are coming up with innovative ways to drain out the abscesses quickly and effectively, causing the least amount of pain and interruption during breastfeeding.

Lactational breast abscesses are treated by the incision and drainage method, although for other abscesses you can resort to antibiotics and some self-care techniques. Opt for surgery only as of the last resort. diagnosing breast abscesses requires close examinations, scans, and ultrasounds of the affected area along with all the preliminary tests checking the blood pressure and sugar levels in the body.  

Antibiotics

Usually, breast abscesses in the initial stages can be cured by a dose of antibiotics. It is only obvious because the condition caused primarily as a result of bacterial infection. The most common bacteria responsible for abscesses is the Staphylococcus aureus. Although ensure that you complete the course and not leave it midway even if you find the abscesses cured. Leaving the antibiotics medicines halfway can cause a recurrence of breast abscesses in the future. Also, we do not recommend the over-the-counter antibiotics for the treatment, take only the meds prescribed by the doctor after a thorough checkup.   

Incision And Drainage Method

In the incision and drainage method, the pus in the breast abscesses has to be drained out. Most breast abscesses can be drained out using a needle and some local anesthesia to numb the affected area for minimum pain. For this, doctors have to first locate the exact location of the abscesses on the breast with an ultrasound scan. If the abscesses are in the initial stages then it can be treated with a needle, however, in case of large abscesses, doctors have to resort to surgery. In surgery, a small incision or cut is made on the affected area to drain out the pus.

Once the pus has been removed, the wound would be closed or packed with cotton. Ensure that the wound is not tightly packed with gauze as it can cause more problems later.

Some Self-Care Tips

There are several measures that one can take up to reduce the damage caused by breast abscesses. Ensure that your body and mind is well rested. Stress and depression in young mothers often render their immune systems weak, thereby making them vulnerable to bacterial attacks. Follow a healthy diet (as prescribed by your doctor), be hydrated, drink plenty of fluids to flush out the toxins. Exercise regularly and gently massage the tender breasts to unblock the milk ducts. You can also use a warm compress on the affected area to reduce pain and swelling. You can also take some pain killers or anti-inflammatory medicine, of course with the permission of your doctor, to reduce the pain caused by the breast abscesses.  

Post-Procedure Care

After the surgery, you will have to take some extra measures to ensure a speedy recovery. Abscesses in and around the breasts are treated using the I&D technique. However, you will have to take a few medications and antibiotics to ensure that the abscesses don’t return. Some of the cases where medicines and surgery both are required for treating abscesses are;

  • When the abscesses have spread out to multiple locations including the face and genitalia
  • When abscesses are accompanied by fever and nausea
  • When the patient is old and has sugar and blood pressure issues

At home, patients can change the dressing and clean out the abscesses. Anti-steroid medication, warm compresses and plenty of rest would do the trick.

Some Preventive Measures

There are several ways that you can adapt to prevent the risk of breast abscesses. First of all, you need to learn how to breastfeed the baby properly. Don’t rush the process up. Some simple preventive measures are;

  • Ensure that the baby is latching on to the breast properly before you begin breastfeeding
  • Refrain from wearing tight innerwear and uncomfortable clothes
  • Try to encourage the baby to drain as much milk from each breast as possible
  • You can also switch to a breast pump to pump out the milk and unblock the milk ducts
  • Wash your breasts with warm water and soap after breastfeeding
  • After breastfeeding wipe the areolas and nipples with cotton soaked in warm water or breast milk
  • Keep the skin in and around the breast moisturized. Apply lanolin cream daily on the nipples to prevent cracking

The Bottom Line

The best way to deal with breast abscesses is constant self-examination, self-care, and awareness of your body. Look out for any lumps in and around the areolas, be in touch with your gynecologist in case you see rashes, redness, experience inflammation or pain in and around the breasts during or after breastfeeding. Also, maintain your personal hygiene, avoid wearing tight bras especially after pregnancy and follow an overall healthy lifestyle.