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Zuska's Disease and Recurrent Breast Abscesses: My Experience

I am not an expert of recurring breast abscesses but had hundreds of breast abscesses over 12 years. This is my experience.

I Had Over 300 Breast Abscesses

Although I am not an expert on breast abscesses, I have had over 300 breast abscesses over a period of 11 years. I wanted to share my experience of having Zuska's disease, a painful condition of recurring breast abscesses, to raise awareness.

I will discuss the possible causes and treatments of breast abscesses. I will also discuss what I believe to be the psychological triggers of breast abscesses by sharing details about my first encounter with this condition.

What Is a Breast Abscess?

A breast abscess is a localised, painful accumulation of a pocket of pus that develops in the breast tissue and is often seen in women age 16 to 45 years of age who are of breastfeeding age.

Medics say that abscesses are usually caused by a bacterial infection. A breast abscess is an inflamed painful, red, warm pus-filled nodule that eventually comes to a head. It is caused by the blockage of a gland or a duct inside the breast that can become infected.


What Is Zuska's Disease?

Zuska's disease (ZD), first discovered in 1951, is a painful, rare disorder characterised by recurrent breast abscess and breast duct fistulas—located around the breast nipple. This disease is also referred to as lactiferous fistula, periductal mastitis, periareolar abscess, mammary duct ectasia or mammillary fistula.

ZD usually affects young women during their childbearing years although it does not have an association with pregnancy or breastfeeding. It is more commonly diagnosed in women that smoke but may occur in 1-10% of women.

The painful condition of ZD can also, although rarely, be found in the breast of men, however, the literature on mammillary fistulas or treatments of (ZD) in males is scarce.

Causes and Symptoms

Zuska's Disorder (ZD) is caused by plugging and blockage of the breast ducts from abnormal changes in the ducts, called squamous metaplasia of lactiferous ducts. A significant factor for this ductal change is the smoking of cigarettes.

ZD is a disease that can present in stages.

In the first stage of ZD, there is plugging of the ducts around the nipples as an abscess starts to form. Many patients do not have any symptoms at this initial stage.

In the next stage, the ducts fill with pus and debris. This ductal change causes sporadic, recurrent, non-menstrual-cycle-related breast pain As the nipple abscess develops it can be accompanied by intense pain, redness, swelling, fever and a milky type discharge from the edge of the nipple.

The final stage is the development of a draining tract also called a fistulous tract. A draining tract is a fistulous lesion that breaks through the skin and oozes a milky substance. It becomes the focus of the inflammation and pain on the surface of the skin.


Breast abscesses are usually dealt with by the administration of antibiotics. In many cases, the abscess will require a surgical incision or needle aspiration to allow the abscess to drain.

The difficulty with surgical intervention is that this treatment can interfere in lactation and the ability of mammary glands to secrete milk for nursing a child.

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Repeated breast abscess might require long-term use of antibiotics.


My First Nipple Abscess

I got my first sign of a breast abscess when I was 47 years old. I remember my first abscess to the day because on that day, I was told someone I loved was going to die.

My body went into shock, I felt a tingling of my nipple, a burning uncomfortable sensation. Two or three hours after the initial tingling, I had a fever, intense pain and a sensation of pressure from behind my nipple, which, on examination, was glowing bright red, burning hot to the touch and swollen.

The abscess eventually burst and ruptured my skin and a yellow substance, pus, which is bacteria, came out of the burst abscess through my skin. My abscess number two started the following day. My loved one died within days and from then on I developed abscess after abscess for years.

How I Treated My Abscesses

To deal with the pain and pressure of the abscess I would lay in the bath with a hot flannel draped over my nipple in the hopes that the heat would draw the infection to the surface of my skin so that it would burst. I took long-term antibiotics but still, the abscess's continued to develop. My nipples had lesions all around the edges where the skin had burst and I was painful.

In December 2007 I went into hospital to have surgery to remove the infected areas of my breast to try and prevent the recurring abscesses. My right nipple was removed and a segment of my breast, which was about the size of a segment of a small orange was removed. My nipple was replaced but still, the abscesses kept coming although not as often as I was getting them before surgery. Now I was getting an abscess every week instead of almost daily and then over the months they settled to once a month and eventually settled to the point where I got one every few months.

In 2015 I was abscess free for almost a year but then I got another shock to my emotional system. Someone that I believed loved me hurt me deeply with cruel words and as soon as I heard the words spoken, I felt the tingle of my breast and within two hours had an intense flaming abscess and a fever which took long-term antibiotics to deal with.

Smoking Increases Your Risk

I have been abscess-free since 2017. I stopped smoking in 2017, and I believe that this has helped my body to heal better and quicker and also prevented further abscesses from forming. If you are experiencing repeated breast abscesses and are a smoker, it might be worth it to consider quitting.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


Louise Elcross (author) from Preston on September 12, 2020:

Thank you Cynthia. It was an horrific and painful period in my life. I am glad that time is over and I have been abscess free now for a couple of years.

Louise Elcross (author) from Preston on September 12, 2020:

Thank you Pamela for reading. All my consultants and my doctor agreed they had never known someone to have as many abscesses as I had. I have lupus and other conditions too and I think emotionally stress and shock was the initial trigger. I have been abscess free for a while and I try to avoid drama in my life in the hopes that I do not get them again because they are extremely painful especially in the areas I was getting them.

Cynthia Zirkwitz from Vancouver Island, Canada on September 11, 2020:

I can only faintly imagine how greatly you suffered with these painful breast abscesses. I am happy to read that you have come through the process with a deep understanding of some of the psychological triggers. Inspiring read!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 11, 2020:

You sure suffered with these abcesses. As a nurse I never saw anyone with this awful disease but that is probabl due to the type of work I did. I am glad you are free of them now.

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