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Women's Health

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Breast Infection

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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

Breast Infection Exams and Tests

The diagnosis of mastitis and a breast abscess can usually be made based on a physical exam.

  • If it is unclear whether a mass is due to a fluid-filled abscess or to a solid mass such as a tumor, a test such as an ultrasound may be done. An ultrasound may also be helpful in distinguishing between simple mastitis and abscess or in diagnosing an abscess deep in the breast. This noninvasive test allows your doctor to directly visualize the abscess by placing an ultrasound probe over your breast. If an abscess is confirmed, aspiration or surgical drainage, and IV antibiotics, are often required.
  • Cultures may be taken, either of breast milk or of material taken out of an abscess through a syringe, to determine the type of organism causing the infection. This information can help your doctor decide what kind of antibiotic to use.
  • Nonbreastfeeding women with mastitis, or those who do not respond to treatment, may have a mammogram or breast biopsy. This is a precautionary measure because a rare type of breast cancer can produce symptoms of mastitis.

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