How to heal breast infections without surgery

Written by: Mr Kislaya Kumar Thakur
Edited by: Cameron Gibson-Watt

A breast infection, also known as mastitis, usually affects one breast at a time with symptoms coming on suddenly. As the infection manifests, it can be very uncomfortable, causing the breast to become hot, swollen and painful.

In this article, London breast surgeon, Mr Kislaya Thakur explains how to resolve breast infections without needing surgery, by applying effective home remedies and the advice and guidance of a breast specialist.



What are the main causes of breast infections?

The most common cause of breast infections is from breastfeeding. They occur in around 2% of breastfeeding mothers when bacteria from a baby’s mouth enters the breast and infects it. The most common type is staphylococcus aureus bacteria.


Breast infection rates in women who do not breastfeed are low but can happen with conditions that cause chronic inflammation of the ducts. It is also common in women that smoke, who have diabetes and have health conditions that reduce immunity, such as HIV and AIDS.


Nipple piercing and breast implants can be another cause of breast infections.


What type of home remedies are recommended to manage it?

For breastfeeding-related infections, you should learn to adopt safe breastfeeding techniques. These include:


  • ensuring you maintain the correct posture when your baby is feeding
  • making sure the baby latches on properly
  • avoiding your breasts overfilling with milk


You may also find it useful to gently massage the affected area towards the nipple to help the milk drain out fully.


To help manage any discomfort at home, you should rest and drink plenty of fluids, make sure you keep your nipple area clean and wear a supportive bra for comfort. Warm showers can also help and applying a warm, wet cloth across the breast can help reduce any inflammation and pain.


What medications can be offered and when?

If home care doesn’t work, you should seek medical advice from a breast specialist. The earlier the presentation, the easier it can be managed.


You may need to get an ultrasound scan done of the infected breast to check for the presence of an abscess. If an abscess is not detected, painkillers and anti-inflammatory medication for symptom relief along with suitable antibiotics can be prescribed.


You can continue to breastfeed or use a breast pump to express milk on the infected side.


After a breast infection, why is a check-up necessary?

Although it is rare, certain breast cancers can mimic the symptoms of a breast infection, e.g. inflammatory breast cancer. That is why all breast infections should be followed up until they have fully resolved.


If the breast infection doesn't resolve within a reasonable time frame, we would need to further investigate to be able to rule out cancer. Tests to do this may include a mammogram, ultrasound scan and needle biopsies.


When is surgery the only option?

Surgery can be avoided in most instances. Usually, if there is an infected milk duct or abscess, it can be managed with the combination of ultrasound-guided aspiration (to be sent for microbiology culture sensitivity) and suitable antibiotics.


Only if the infection does not respond to repeated aspirations and multiple courses of antibiotics would a surgical incision and drainage under a general anaesthetic be required.


What is the outlook like for breast infections?

Most breastfeeding infections will resolve with non-surgical methods i.e. aspiration plus antibiotics. A very small proportion of women will end up needing surgical intervention. Furthermore, very few of these will end up being diagnosed as inflammatory breast cancer as it is a very uncommon condition.


If you are suffering from repeated breast infections or home remedies aren't helping you, you should seek the advice of a breast specialist. Go to Mr Kislaya Thakur's Top Doctors profile and book a consultation with him.

By Mr Kislaya Kumar Thakur

Mr Kislaya Thakur is an experienced consultant general surgeon with a specialist interest in breast surgery. Practising at BMI The Blackheath Hospital and LycaHealth Orpington, Mr Thakur provides attentive and expert advice on all benign and malignant breast disease, including problems with breastfeeding and lactation, inflammatory disease, skin lesions and lumps. He is a strong advocate of greater patient awareness around breast cancer symptoms and runs a comprehensive screening service, covering family history and genetic testing. Mr Thakur also runs a wide general surgical practice covering hernias, haemorrhoids, fissures, and hydrocele.

Mr Thakur graduated in medicine from the prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences in 1988, then was awarded an MS-Masters in Surgery at the same institute in 1992, for his thesis on major trauma outcomes. In 1995 he moved to the UK and pursued specialist training at the Hedley Atkins Breast Unit, Guy’s Hospital and the HPB Unit at King’s College Hospital. He has been practising at consultant level since 2003. He is the lead for his local breast cancer MDT-Multi-Disciplinary Team and the Clinical Director for Cancer at his NHS Trust. In addition to his long experience as a surgical oncologist (cancer surgeon ) he has past experience of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, thus providing holistic advice pertaining to all aspects of breast cancer care. He also leads on the local LWABC-Living with and beyond cancer agenda.

In addition to his clinical practice, Mr Thakur has presented on related subjects at various national and international scientific meetings. He remains committed to teaching & training of undergraduates from GKT medical school and postgraduates from the London Deanery.

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