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Ten Most Common Causes of Breast Pain

Ten Most Common Causes of Breast Pain

Women of all ages will report having breast pain at some point during their lives, and most often it’s not a sign of cancer. Breast pain can vary depending on the person and can be in one or both breasts. It can be a dull, continuous ache or a sharp, shooting pain.

These are the most common causes of breast pain in women:

  1. Hormonal fluctuations. Monthly changes in estrogen and progesterone, often leading up to a menstrual cycle, accounts for 75 percent of breast pain. These fluctuations can cause swelling, tenderness and lumpiness that typically resolve after menstruation. Breast pain can increase as women age due increased sensitivity to hormones.
  1. Increased breast size. Women with large breasts can have breast pain directly related to the size of their breasts. Breast-related back, neck or shoulder pain are often associated with larger breasts because the weight of the breasts pulls the upper body forward, changing their normal body alignment. This constant pull can cause tension on the neck, shoulder, and back muscles.
  1. Unsupportive bra. A bra that is too loose or too tight can leave breasts improperly supported or compress the breasts leading to pain and discomfort. If your bra straps or underwire are digging in or the breast is bulging out, then the fit needs to be adjusted. Many department stores offer free bra-fitting services. It is also important to wear a sports bra during exercise for support and to prevent unnecessary bounce that can result in soreness, pain, or sagging.
  1. Pregnancy. Breast tenderness is one of the most reported symptoms of pregnancy and can begin as early as 5 to 7 weeks of pregnancy. A women’s breasts will grow and change during pregnancy as the body works to build up fat, tissue, and milk glands and as blood flow increases to prepare for breastfeeding. Nipple pain is common during pregnancy and can increase as they grow.
  1. Side effect of a medication. Certain medications can cause breast pain and tenderness. The most common examples include diuretics, steroids, infertility treatments, oral hormonal contraceptives, postmenopausal estrogen and progesterone, and antidepressants. If you are taking any of these medications or suspect that a prescription medication is the cause for your breast pain, talk to your doctor about other options that may work for you.
  1. Menopause. Changes in the levels of estrogen and progesterone can cause breast pain and soreness during perimenopause and menopause. In the weeks leading up to a menstrual cycle, fluid builds up in your breast making them swollen and tender. The hormonal changes of menopause cause your cycle to be irregular, which can lead to the increase in breast pain and tenderness.
  1. Mastitis. Mastitis is an infection in the breast that can cause pain, swelling, fever, and tiredness. Mastitis is most common during breastfeeding because of clogged milk ducts but can happen at other times as well.
  1. Breast cysts. A breast cyst is a noncancerous, fluid-filled sac that can feel like a firm lump in the breast. Cysts can be painless and can fluctuate in size during a menstrual cycle. They can be caused by gland or milk duct changes and typically go away once a woman has reached menopause.
  1. Fibrocystic breast changes. Fibrocystic changes can cause soreness, tenderness, or lumps in one or both breasts due to a buildup of fibrous tissue or fluid. This condition is harmless and does not increase the risk of developing breast cancer. Try reducing the salt and caffeine intake in your diet to help reduce pain and discomfort and adding vitamin E and B6 supplements.
  1. Breast cancer. Breast cancer is sometimes found after symptoms appear, however many women with breast cancer have no symptoms. This is why regular breast cancer screenings are so important. Inflammatory breast cancer and tumors can lead to breast tenderness and discomfort. Contact your doctor if you experience a lump, pain, swelling, rash, or nipple discharge as this could signal infection or larger medical condition.

Although most breast pain is minor and does not signal a serious illness, it’s important to talk to your doctor about the severity and frequency of your pain. Your doctor will want to know about your health and family history and will likely examine you to determine the location of the pain and if a lump is present. At this point, your doctor may want to schedule any of the following:

  • Mammogram- this is a special X-ray of the breast.
  • Breast ultrasound- painless test that uses sound waves to photograph a lump in the breast tissue.
  • Breast biopsy- an outpatient procedure where a portion of tissue is surgically removed from the breast and examined under a microscope.

There are different treatments for breast pain, depending on the cause. You and your doctor can determine what is best for you. While there is no scientific evidence lifestyle changes are effective at relieving breast pain or discomfort, some women feel better when changing bra styles and reducing the amount of salt and caffeine in their diet.

If you are experiencing breast pain, contact your doctor. We encourage all woman over 40 years old to schedule an annual mammogram. Visit to schedule yours today.