Mastalgia, the medical term for breast soreness, is a common complaint among women. It can differ from woman to woman, with some barely noticing it while other women may be in a great deal of pain. It can be one breast or both, the full breast or only part, and the pain can range from a dull throbbing to a sharp, stabbing pain. This pain can also be felt within the armpit. In most cases this breast soreness is harmless and there are a number of reasons as to why it can occur.
What Causes Sore Breasts?
Breast pain can be affected by stress and by medications you may be taking, but it can increase in intensity with changes to hormone levels. Breast pain or soreness is more common before menopause and it can disappear entirely after menopause.
There are a variety of reasons for the mostly harmless condition of breast soreness, though it is primarily related to hormonal changes in the body. The pain or tenderness can be cyclical and occur at certain times of the menstrual cycle, or it can be non-cyclical, occurring at any time.
1. Cyclical Breast Pain
The cyclical type of breast pain is the most common and is believed to be caused by normal monthly changes in hormone levels. It typically occurs in both breasts and can radiate into the armpit. It has been described as a soreness or heaviness that is at its most severe just before the start of the menstrual period, but is relieved when the period ends. Cyclical breast soreness is most commonly seen in younger women and disappears with menopause.
2. Non-Cyclical Breast Pain
Non-cyclical breast pain is frequently seen in women aged thirty to fifty and can occur in only one breast or one area of the breast. It has been described as a burning or sharp pain and can be caused by a cyst or fibroadenoma. If this is the case, the problem can be treated, eliminating the breast pain.
3. Other Hormonal Causes of Breast Soreness
- Puberty (this can occur in boys, as well as girls)
- Pregnancy (more often in the first trimester)
- In the days following childbirth. There is a condition called breastfeeding mastitis in which a milk duct does not drain properly and leads to infection, which can become serious when left untreated. It has no relation to breast cancer.
4. Fibrocystic Breast Tissue
Some women have fibrocystic breasts, which is lumpy breast tissue. This can be more painful at certain times during the monthly cycle. They are not usually linked to cancer. The lumps in the breast tissue are fluid-filled cysts instead of a mass of cells. Fibrocystic breast changes commonly cause breast pain in women as the tissue containing lumps tend to be very tender just before the menstrual period.
5. Medications That May Cause Breast Pain
Medications that may cause breast tenderness or increase breast pain include:
- Methyldopa (Aldomet)
- Spironolactone (Aldactone)
- Certain diuretics
6. Other Common Causes of Breast Soreness in One or Both Breasts
- Wearing a bra that is not properly fitted or is unsupportive
- Consuming too much caffeine, such as in soda, tea, coffee, or energy drinks like Guarana
- Weight gain, which causes the breasts to become larger and heavier
- Cysts or fibroadenomas
- Certain medications such as for cholesterol or contraception
- Injury to breast tissue
- Any physical activity or heavy lifting that can cause stress or strain to the chest, shoulders, or pectoral muscles
- Any condition that can affect the ribs, muscles, or chest wall which lie under the breasts
Can It Be Breast Cancer?
In most cases, breast pain is not linked to breast cancer, nor is it more likely to put you at a higher risk. Lumpy breast tissue can make it harder to detect tumors on a mammogram. If, however, you have consistent, localized pain in one area of the breast, you should see your doctor. A breast exam can help your doctor determine if there is a need for further examination or biopsy.
When to Call a Doctor
You should see your doctor as soon as possible if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Unexplained and persistent breast pain
- Clear or bloody discharge from the nipple
- Signs of infection including fever, pus, redness, or swelling
- A lump appears with the onset of any breast pain and the lump does not go away after the menstrual period ends
Diagnosis of Sore Breasts
When you visit your doctor about breast pain or soreness, there are a number of things that will be considered, though there still may not be a definitive cause. Your doctor will perform a physical examination and include:
- History of your breast pain
- Any physical causes, such as injury or scarring
- How and when you experience the pain, including the location within the breast
- The status of your menstrual cycle or whether you are on HRT after menopause
- Results of any diagnostic tests such as ultrasound, x-rays, or mammograms
Tips for Relieving Sore Breasts
There are a number of ways to help you manage any breast pain or discomfort that many women have reported to be effective. You should be aware that it may still take weeks for these tips to be effective at reducing breast pain. These include:
- Cut down on caffeine consumption
- Wear a well-fitting and supportive bra
- Take B Vitamin complex
- Take Primrose Oil
- Cut down or quit smoking and/or use or marijuana
- Apply anti-inflammatory creams to the area
- Use an ice pack
- Use a heating pad
- Discuss your medications with your doctor if they are the cause of breast pain
- Use over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen(consult your physician)
- Use of oral contraceptives may alleviate cyclic breast pain
- Eat a low-fat diet
- Take a magnesium supplement during the two weeks before your next period
Talk About It
Breast soreness and pain can be very upsetting to women, creating many worries, including the fear of cancer, and any tests can be invasive and stressful. Breast pain can affect how women feel about themselves and their relationships. While living with pain can be difficult, living with breast pain can be made more difficult because it is something that is not readily discussed openly. Sharing your feelings with supportive friends or family members when breast pain has a negative impact on your life might help.