Breast infections and breast abscesses during breastfeeding are not uncommon, but there has been little research into why non-lactating women develop them. A recent study provides insight into the risk factors for breast abscesses, with smoking being at the top of the list.
Breast abscesses: Smoking and nipple piercing significant risk factors
The recent study, published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons, found women who smoke are six times more likely to develop primary breast abscesses and eleven times more likely to develop subareolar abscesses than non-smokers. Additionally, the chance of recurring breast abscesses (requiring additional treatment within 6 months) is 15 times higher in smokers than in non-smokers.
“Nearly 60 percent of patients with a recurrence of breast abscess were heavy smokers,” said Vinod Gollapalli, MD, a post-doctoral fellow in the department of surgery at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, in an August 3 ,2010, press release. “Since smoking appears to be a strong risk factor for both causing breast abscess and its recurrence, we recommend patients should be counseled to quit smoking as an integral part of treatment.”
The study results also indicate nipple piercing is a significant risk factor for both primary and subareolar breast abscesses. The patient data reviewed in the study showed breast abscesses occurred anywhere from one month to seven years after the nipple was pierced.
Additional risk factors confirmed by the study include diabetes and obesity.
Symptoms of a breast infection and breast abscess
Breast abscesses form when an infection of the breast tissue or milk ducts becomes severe enough for pus to collect and build up. In the case of a subareolar abscess, the infection affects the areolar glands, which are located under the areola (colored tissue around the nipple).
Women who develop a breast infection or breast abscess may experience flu-like symptoms for a several hours before the localized breast symptoms appear. These flu-like symptoms can include fever, body aches, chills, nausea and vomiting.
Symptoms involving the breast include:
Breast tenderness or pain
Redness, swelling and warmth on part of the breast
Swollen and tender breast lump
Pus or drainage from a lump in the area of the areola
Tender, enlarged lymph nodes in the corresponding armpit
Women who experience these symptoms should contact their doctor. Treatment usually involves oral antibiotics and draining of the abscess.