What is a Breast Abscess?

Breast abscesses are rare, painful conditions caused by a collection of pus–aka infected fluid–in the breast that can lead to chills, fatigue, body aches, and even fever. The condition is a complication of infected breast tissue called mastitis, which most often appears in women who are breastfeeding, but can also appear in women who aren’t currently breastfeeding and even men. Breast abscesses can also be a result of untreated breast cellulitis, a severe bacterial skin infection.

Physicians will generally diagnose the issue via a physical exam, but sometimes will recommend additional testing to analyze the infection at hand; treatment involves not only a course of antibiotics but also draining the infected fluid with a needle and local anesthesia. The antibiotics administered will depend on the severity of the infection, and the needle draining is generally repeated two to three times, in order to ensure that all the infected fluid has been drained from the patient’s breast. Perhaps surprisingly, nursing mothers suffering from mastitis or a breast abscess are usually told to continue nursing throughout the infection’s duration.

Other terms for “breast abscess” include:

  • Breast infection
  • Primary breast abscess
  • Areolar breast abscess
  • Subareolar breast abscess
  • Areolar gland abscess

Primary symptoms of breast abscess include:

  • Fever: most individuals who have a breast abscess will come down with a fever and feel generally worse; in rare cases, patients feel ill enough to be hospitalized as well.
  • Breast pain, swelling, and warmth: these symptoms are often due to a preceding mastitis or cellulitis that had not been handled properly, causing the abscess to form. They can manifest near the nipple, the breast’s sides, or even radiate throughout the breast itself.
  • Localized breast pain: you may feel pain where the abscess is located.
  • Tender fluctuant breastmass: you may be able to feel a tender, painful-to-the-touch mass in your breast that’s “fluctuant,” meaning that it’s filled with fluid. The mass generally forms between five and 28 days after the mastitis or cellulitis, but it could develop concurrently.

However, it’s important to note that the above can also be signs of other illnesses, so it’s essential you visit your primary care provider to diagnose the issue at hand. Breast abscesses can be prevented, as long as you stay vigilant about making sure you catch and treat breast mastitis or cellulitis early and quickly.