Breast Pain (Mastalgia)

Overview

Is breast pain common?

Breast pain, also called mastalgia, is a very common condition, especially among women aged 30 to 50. It affects roughly 70% of women at some point in their life.

Sometimes, you may feel a sharp breast pain that's actually coming from deep down in your chest. This is referred to as chest wall pain.

Is breast pain a sign of breast cancer?

People who are diagnosed with breast cancer will likely develop lumps in the breast area that can be quite painful. But breast pain on its own isn’t usually a sign of breast cancer.

If you have breast pain — either localized or generalized — you should schedule a visit with your healthcare provider for a routine breast examination. This will ensure that your health is being monitored and that your breast screenings are up to date.

Why do you feel breast pain during pregnancy?

During pregnancy, your body begins producing more hormones than normal, specifically estrogen. This directly affects your breasts, often making both of them painful and tender as your pregnancy progresses through the different stages.

Are there different types of breast pain?

There are two distinct types of breast pain, which are:

  • Cyclic breast pain. This type of breast pain lines up with your menstrual cycle. Because of that, it’s more common in 20-to-50-year-old women — and it’s particularly common in women who are on the younger end of that range. You may have breast pain in one breast or both, and it typically occurs due to natural hormonal shifts. Roughly a week before your period, you may start to feel a little pain in the upper, outer parts of your breasts. Cyclic breast pain goes away naturally once you get your period, but returns during your next menstrual cycle. Most women don’t experience this type of breast pain after menopause.
  • Noncyclic breast pain. This type of breast pain has nothing to do with your menstrual cycle, and is more common in 40-to-50-year-old women.

Symptoms and Causes

What causes breast pain?

Cyclic breast pain is often triggered by your natural menstrual cycle, but noncyclic breast pain causes may include:

There are also certain activities that can cause noncyclic breast pain, including:

In many cases, there is no clear cause for breast pain.

What are the symptoms of breast pain?

Your symptoms will differ depending on whether you’re suffering from cyclic or noncyclic breast pain. During cyclic breast pain, your breasts will likely feel:

  • Tender.
  • Swollen.
  • Heavy.
  • Sore.

The severity of the pain can be different for everyone, and for some, it may spread to your armpit and shoulders too. The symptoms of noncyclic breast pain are a little different, and are as follows:

  • The pain will be limited to one specific area in your breast.
  • A sharper, more acute pain.
  • A burning, stabbing sensation in that one area.

These symptoms of noncyclic breast pain may come and go over time, or remain for a longer period.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is breast pain diagnosed?

Before performing a breast exam, your doctor will ask you about your symptoms, how long you’ve been experiencing them and the severity and frequency of your pain. During the breast exam, they'll examine your breasts for any possible lumps. They may also ask you to lean forward during the exam to assess whether the pain is coming from your breast or from inside your chest. Your doctor may also order a mammogram or an ultrasound, but whether or not you need either of these imaging tests will depend on a few different factors, including:

  • Your specific type of pain.
  • The findings from the breast exam.
  • Your age.
  • The length of time between your last breast-imaging procedure.

Management and Treatment

How is breast pain treated?

Since cyclic breast pain is a regular part of your menstrual cycle, it doesn’t require as much treatment. There are some pain-relieving medications you can take to help with your symptoms if the pain is becoming unmanageable, including:

If your breast pain is even more severe, your doctor may suggest Danazol or Tamoxifen, which are two prescription medications. But these two medications also have certain side effects, which is why it’s important to talk with your doctor before taking them, to determine whether it will be worth it for your specific case.

There are also a few other treatment methods that you can use to help relieve your pain, including:

  • Wearing a well-fitting, supportive bra. (Breast size and shape changes over time. So, make sure you’re routinely fitted for the correct bra size.)
  • Taking Vitamin E supplements and other multivitamins.
  • Eliminating caffeine from your diet.
  • Avoiding tobacco products.
  • Using evening primrose oil.
  • Applying heat to the most painful area on your breast, being sure to protect your skin.
  • Taking magnesium supplements. If you take these during your menstrual cycle, roughly two weeks before your period, it can help relieve some of your symptoms.
  • Applying over-the-counter trolamine salicylate cream to ease aches and pains.
  • Relaxation and complementary therapy.

Your healthcare provider may suggest using some of the same medications to treat the symptoms of noncyclic breast pain. However, if they can find the underlying cause of your pain (such as a fibroadenoma, a cyst or a benign lump), they can remove it and relieve your symptoms.

Prevention

Can you prevent breast pain?

Since cyclic breast pain is a regular part of your menstrual cycle, you can’t exactly prevent it. But there are certain lifestyle changes you can make to ensure that your symptoms won’t be as bad, and to help prevent noncyclic breast pain, which include:

  • Drastically reducing your caffeine intake, or cutting it out altogether.
  • Eating a very low-fat diet.
  • Wearing a supportive sports bra that fits really well, especially while you’re exercising.

Outlook / Prognosis

How long does breast pain last?

Before menopause, you’ll likely experience cyclic breast pain during every menstrual cycle. Though breast pain is a relatively constant issue, the severity of the pain depends on how you decide to treat it — through specific pain-relieving medications and certain lifestyle changes. Noncyclic breast pain can also be treated and managed with these different methods. Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to obtain these medications or make beneficial lifestyle changes, making this condition something that shouldn’t cause you much trouble at all.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider about my breast pain?

If you notice that your breast pain hasn’t gone away after three weeks, contact your healthcare provider immediately. They can help determine the cause of your pain and design a treatment plan to fit your needs.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

While breast pain can cause significant discomfort, it’s usually not serious. Fortunately, symptoms can typically be managed with simple self-care practices. If you develop other symptoms along with breast pain — such as lumps, changes in the texture of your breasts or discharge from your nipples — schedule a consultation with your healthcare provider.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/28/2021.

References

  • BreastCancer.Org. Mastalgia (Breast Pain). (https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/benign/mastalgia) Accessed 11/2/2021.
  • University of Michigan: Michigan Medicine. Breast Pain (Mastalgia). (https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/tm6412spec) Accessed 11/2/2021.
  • Breast Cancer Now. Breast pain. (https://breastcancernow.org/information-support/have-i-got-breast-cancer/benign-breast-conditions/breast-pain) Accessed 11/2/2021.
  • American Pregnancy Association. Breast Changes During Pregnancy. (https://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/breast-changes-during-pregnancy/) Accessed 11/2/2021.
  • Eren T, Aslan A, Ozemir IA, Baysal H, Sagiroglu J, Ekinci O, Alimoglu O. Factors Effecting Mastalgia. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4960349/) Breast Care (Basel). 2016; 11(3): 188-193. Accessed 11/2/2021.

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