Causes of Breast Pain

You wake up one morning and your breasts feel tender and sore. You wonder: Why do my breasts hurt and feel heavy? Could it be a sign of breast cancer?

If your only symptom is breast pain, cancer is unlikely. Although pain in one or both breasts is bothersome, it’s rarely a sign of a serious condition.

Still, breast pain can interfere with your day-to-day well-being. Read on to learn about breast pain causes — and what you can do to get rid of breast pain.

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Breast Pain Basics

At one time or another, most women have wondered: Why does my breast hurt?

Rest assured that breast pain is common. There’s even a medical name for it — mastalgia. It occurs most often as part of the menstrual cycle.

Breast pain can occur in one or both breasts. It can be a slow, dull ache, or a sharp, shooting pain.

Causes of Breast Pain

There are two main types of breast pain.

Cyclic breast pain

Breast pain that comes and goes with your menstrual cycle is the most common type of breast pain. Your breasts might feel swollen, heavy, and sore to touch in the days leading up to your period. The soreness may improve once your period starts.

With cyclic breast pain, the achiness tends to be dull and spread over the entire breast. It usually affects both breasts.

Shifting hormones are to blame for cyclic breast pain. For most women, this type of breast pain stops at menopause.

Noncyclic breast pain

Not all causes of breast pain have to do with your period. Noncyclic breast pain has other causes. This type of breast pain may feel like a burning or stabbing sensation, and it often affects only one breast.

Some causes of breast pain not linked to your period are:

  • A breast abscess — an infection inside the breast.
  • A bra that doesn’t fit — especially if you have heavy breasts, a non-supportive or ill-fitting bra can trigger aches and pains.
  • Caffeine Did you know that caffeine can sometimes be the cause of breast pain? While caffeine is not harmful to your breasts, decreasing your consumption of caffeine (like coffee and chocolate) can sometimes alleviate breast pain.
  • Injury — an injury to the delicate tissue of the breast or surrounding areas can cause breast pain.
  • Mastitis — an infection of the breast, usually caused by a clogged milk duct in breastfeeding mothers.
  • Previous surgery to the breast — some women who’ve had breast surgery have lingering pain for months or even years.
  • Pregnancy — breast soreness (usually in both breasts) can be an early sign that you’re pregnant.
  • Side effects of some medicines — such as contraceptive pills and antidepressants.

Treating Breast Pain at Home

There are treatments and strategies you can try at home to soothe your sore breasts.

  • Get a good-fitting, supportive bra.
  • Take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain meds, such as ibuprofen, as needed.
  • Apply warm or cool compresses to soothe aches.
  • If contraceptive pills are causing breast pain, you may benefit from switching to another method of birth control. (Of course, check with your doctor first.)
  • Abstain from caffeinated products.

When Should I See a Doctor for Breast Pain?

Most breast pain is not serious. However, you should see a doctor if the following symptoms accompany breast pain:

  • A lump in the breast that doesn’t go away after your period.
  • Nipple discharge, either bloody or clear.
  • A new lump with the onset of pain.
  • Signs of pregnancy.
  • A fever and/or chills.
  • Redness or swelling in the painful area, which could be a sign of infection.
  • Ongoing pain that doesn’t go away after two weeks.
  • Redness of the skin of the breast that looks like a rash, with dilated pores and thick skin. This could be a sign of inflammatory breast cancer.
  • Pain that keeps getting worse even after taking over-the-counter pain meds.

If you have a lump in your breast along with pain, your doctor may order the following tests to find out more or rule out breast cancer.

  • A mammogram — a special x-ray of the breasts.
  • A breast ultrasound — this test uses sound waves to form a picture of any lumps.
  • A breast biopsy — in this outpatient procedure, your doctor will surgically remove some tissue from your breast. Lab workers will examine it under a microscope to see if it’s normal.

Always check with your doctor if you have any questions about breast health.

Sources

American Academy of Family Physicians, Breast Pain in Women, Link

Society of Breast Imaging, My Breasts Hurt: Should I Be Worried? Link

Breast Cancer Now, Breast Pain, Link

NHS, Breast Pain, Link

National Breast Cancer Foundation, Link

Breast Cancer Now, Lasting pain after breast surgery or lymph node removal, Link

Breastcancer.org, Mastalgia (Breast Pain), Link

About UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital

For more than a century, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital has provided high-quality medical care to women at all stages of life. UPMC Magee is long-renowned for its services to women and babies but also offers a wide range of care to men as well. Our patient-first approach ensures you and your loved ones get the care you need. Nearly 10,000 babies are born each year at Magee, and our NICU is one of the largest in the country. Our network of care – from imaging centers to hospital services – provides care throughout Pennsylvania and Maryland, giving you a chance to get the expert care you need close to home. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recognizes UPMC Magee as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health, and the Magee-Womens Research Institute is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology.