Breast pain is a natural part of a woman’s menstrual cycle, often occurring about a week before you get your period. Fortunately, this type of pain — cyclic breast pain — can be easily managed and controlled through certain medications and lifestyle changes.
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.
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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.
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.
There are two distinct types of breast pain, which are:
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.
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:
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:
These symptoms of noncyclic breast pain may come and go over time, or remain for a longer period.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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