Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Women's Health

Select An Article
Font Size

Breast Infection

How the Breast Is Built

The breast is composed of several glands and ducts that lead to the nipple and the surrounding colored area called the areola. The milk-carrying ducts extend from the nipple into the underlying breast tissue like the spokes of a wheel. Under the areola are lactiferous ducts. These fill with milk during lactation after a woman has a baby. When a girl reaches puberty, changing hormones cause the ducts to grow and cause fat deposits in the breast tissue to increase. The glands that produce milk (mammary glands) that are connected to the surface of the breast by the lactiferous ducts may extend to the armpit area.

 

Recommended Related to Women

"I Hate Asking for Help"

By Cynthia HansonIt's the four-letter word no woman likes to utter. How to ask for what you need. It wasn’t until Kathleen Hornstein realized that she couldn’t move her legs that she finally broke down and asked for help. A 34-year-old Pilates instructor and mom of two, Hornstein was pregnant with twins, and despite being overextended and overtired, she had barely slowed down and prided herself on being able to handle anything that came her way. Then, during her second trimester, as she sat...

Read the "I Hate Asking for Help" article > >

Breast Infection Causes

Mastitis is an infection of the tissue of the breast that occurs most frequently during the time of breastfeeding. It can occur when bacteria, often from the baby's mouth, enter a milk duct through a crack in the nipple. 

Breast infections most commonly occur one to three months after the delivery of a baby, but they can occur in women who have not recently delivered as well as in women after menopause. Other causes of infection include chronic mastitis and a rare form of cancer called inflammatory carcinoma.

In healthy women, mastitis is rare. However, women with diabetes, chronic illness, AIDS, or an impaired immune system may be more susceptible.

About 1%-3% of breastfeeding mothers develop mastitis. Engorgement and incomplete breast emptying can contribute to the problem and make the symptoms worse.

Chronic mastitis occurs in women who are not breastfeeding. In postmenopausal women, breast infections may be associated with chronic inflammation of the ducts below the nipple. Hormonal changes in the body can cause the milk ducts to become clogged with dead skin cells and debris. These clogged ducts make the breast more open to bacterial infection. Infection tends to come back after treatment with antibiotics.

Breast Infection Symptoms

Breast infections may cause pain, redness, and warmth of the breast along with the following symptoms:

  • Tenderness and swelling
  • Body aches
  • Fatigue
  • Breast engorgement
  • Fever and chills 
  • Abscess: Sometimes a breast abscess can complicate mastitis. Noncancerous masses such as abscesses are more often tender and frequently feel mobile beneath the skin. The edge of the mass is usually regular and well defined. Indications that this more serious infection has occurred include the following: 
    • Tender lump in the breast that does not get smaller after breastfeeding a newborn (If the abscess is deep in the breast, you may not be able to feel it.)
    • Pus draining from the nipple
    • Persistent fever and no improvement of symptoms within 48-72 hours of treatment

When to Seek Medical Care

Call your health care provider as soon as you feel any suspicious lump, whether you are breastfeeding or not. Call for an appointment if:

  • You have any abnormal discharge from your nipples.
  • Breast pain is making it difficult for you to function each day.
  • You have prolonged, unexplained breast pain.
  • You have any other associated symptoms such as redness, swelling, pain that interferes with breastfeeding, a mass or tender lump in the breast that does not disappear after breastfeeding.
  • If you are breastfeeding, call your doctor if you develop any symptoms of breast infection so that treatment may be started promptly.

You may need to be evaluated in a hospital's emergency department if the breast pain is associated with other signs of an infection (such as a fever, swelling, or redness to the breast) and if your health care provider cannot see you promptly. The below symptoms require emergency treatment:

  • A persistent high fever greater than 101.5°F
  • Nausea or vomiting that is preventing you from taking the antibiotics as prescribed
  • Pus draining from the breast
  • Red streaks extending toward your arm or chest
  • Dizziness, fainting, or confusion

WebMD Medical Reference

Next Article:

Today on WebMD

hands on abdomen
Test your knowledge.
womans hand on abdomen
Are you ready for baby?
 
birth control pills
Learn about your options.
insomnia
Is it menopause or something else?
 
Couple with troubles
Article
Bone density illustration
VIDEO
 
Young woman being vaccinated
Slideshow
woman holding hand to ear
Slideshow
 
Blood pressure check
Slideshow
mother and daughter talking
Evaluator
 
intimate couple
Article
puppy eating
Slideshow