Breast pain: The most common causes

Mastalgia, or breast pain, is fairly common. Hormonal fluctuations, an inappropriate bra fit, and infections are also potential causes. In certain situations, transferred pain from other parts of the body, such as the back or neck, is to blame.

Breast pain affects almost two-thirds of women during their reproductive years, and it is one of the most common complaints among people aged 15 to 40.

Although breast pain is not a common sign of breast cancer, it should be discussed with a doctor if it occurs in conjunction with other breast abnormalities such as a lump or discharge.

Continue reading to discover more about some of the causes of breast pain and how to deal with this condition.

Scar tissue

breast Scar tissue

Scar tissue can form as a result of both surgery and radiation therapy for breast cancer. This can lead to:

  • numbness or pain, if the scar tissue develops around nerves
  • an increase in firmness or a rounder appearance of the breast
  • formation of a lump if the scar forms around a surgical stitch

Treatment options include:

  • In physical therapy, if the scar tissue causes pain, stiffness, and pressure
  • Surgical removal of scar tissue, if it is very painful
  • If a person finds scars bothersome, they may opt to use creams and ointments to reduce their appearance.

Back, neck, or shoulder sprains

Breast pain might come from the exterior rather than the inside of the breast. Sprains or injuries to the back, neck, or shoulder, for example, might result in pain in the breast.

Cervical root disorders, sometimes known as a pinched nerve, can induce breast pain, according to a 2020 study. A nerve root in the neck is damaged or inflamed in certain illnesses.

Referred pain occurs when people experience pain in a different location than where it originates. The treatment is based on identifying the underlying issue. If a person suffering from breast pain has a pinched nerve, physical therapy or spinal surgery to relieve the pinched nerve may help.

Costochondritis

Inflammation of the costal cartilage, which links the ribs to the breastbone, is known as costochondritis. Sharp chest pain and tenderness can accompany the condition, which can develop gradually or suddenly.

The following variables may aggravate the discomfort:

include:

  • Avoid activities that worsen the pain.
  • applying heat to the area
  • Take one of the following medications:
  • undergoing transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), a procedure that applies an electric current to an area to reduce pain.

Chest wall pain

Pain in the chest wall can be caused by a variety of factors. Even though it is not, this discomfort might sometimes feel like it is coming from the breast.

The pain might range in intensity from a single spot to a large area of the breast. A person may have the following experiences:

  • burning or sharp pain
  • pain that spreads down the arm
  • pain that occurs when someone applies pressure to the chest wall
  • pain that worsens upon movement

Possible causes include:

Treatment will depend on the cause, but it may include pain management and avoiding movements that aggravate the pain until the core cause has been addressed.

Breast cysts

Breast cysts are fluid-filled sacs seen in the breast. They’re noncancerous, soft, and more common in women who aren’t yet menopausal. Some cysts are asymptomatic, while others cause pain and nipple discharge.

Treatment isn’t necessary unless the cysts are particularly large or painful. If therapy is required, the fluid will be drained with a needle.

Breast cancer

When cells in the breast change and multiply uncontrollably, breast cancer develops. Breast pain is not commonly caused by cancer, but it is a cause. Other signs and symptoms could include:

  • a lump in the breast
  • pain in any part of the breast
  • any nipple discharge — bloody, clear, or otherwise
  • dimpling or irritation of breast skin
  • pulling in at the nipple or pain in the nipple
  • flaky, inflamed skin in the nipple area
  • thickening or swelling of part of the breast
  • change in the shape or size of the breast

Rarely, people can develop inflammatory breast cancer, which causes different symptoms. These include:

  • a painful, tender, or itchy breast
  • pink, red, or purple discoloration that covers at least one-third of the breast
  • swelling of the skin, making one breast look larger than the other
  • pitting of the skin, similar to that of orange peel
  • a retracted or inverted nipple

Surgery, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, radiation therapy, and biologic therapy are all options for treating breast cancer. Often, people will get more than one of these treatments.

Hormonal changes

Breasts that are tender or swollen are frequently due to hormonal changes that occur before a period. Tenderness in both breasts is common with this type of breast pain, which can also spread to the armpit.

Cyclic breast pain occurs when breast pain is linked to the menstrual cycle. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a group of symptoms that occur before a period, however cyclic breast discomfort can also occur on its own.

Other PMS symptoms include:

PMS is just transient, and it normally disappears a few days after your period starts. People can address the symptoms in the meanwhile by using over-the-counter (OTC) pain medicines, wearing a comfortable and supportive bra, and applying moderate heat to the area.

Other hormonal changes, such as those that occur during pregnancy or in the early stages of menopause, can also cause breast pain.

Bra fit

Bras that are overly tight or have an underwire that digs into the skin or breast tissue can cause breast pain. If a person has cyclic breast discomfort, they may notice that their regular bras feel too small or uncomfortable at certain periods during their menstrual cycle.

Many major stores provide free bra fittings to help people choose the proper size. If women have soreness before their period, they may want to invest in non-wired, supportive, and comfy bras.

When exercising, supportive bras might also be beneficial. According to a 2021 article, 60–70% of women report decreased breast soreness when they exercise while using a sports bra.

Breast fibrocystic changes

Due to hormonal changes, fibrocystic breast alterations are harmless but potentially painful symptoms that cause the breasts to feel lumpy or have a distinct texture. The most frequent type of noncancerous breast condition is fibrocystic breast disease.

The following are examples of symptoms:

  • breasts that feel firmer or thicker than usual
  • tenderness
  • lumps or cysts
  • sensitive nipples
  • itchiness

Before a period, the symptoms may become more severe, but they normally subside following menopause.

The following procedures may be used to treat or manage fibrocystic breasts:

  • taking OTC pain medication, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil)
  • applying cool or warm compresses when the breasts are more painful
  • avoiding a large intake of salt, caffeine, or fat in the diet
  • starting or stopping birth control pills

If you think your fibrocystic breast changes are linked to a new contraceptive, talk to your doctor before changing your dose.

Mastitis

Mastitis is the medical word for breast inflammation or swelling. Infection is the most common cause. Although the condition most commonly affects breastfeeding mothers, it can also afflict non-breastfeeding people.

Mastitis can cause the following symptoms:

  • swelling, pain, and warmth in part of the breast
  • fever
  • headaches
  • general flu-like symptoms

Antibiotics are used to treat infections. Breastfeeding mothers must empty their breasts of milk as well. If an abscess is present, the pus will be surgically removed or removed with a needle.

Medications

Some drugs have been linked to the onset of breast pain. These are some of them:

  • Bigitalis preparations, such as digoxin (Digox), which treat congestive heart failure and abnormal heart rhythm
  • chlorpromazine (Thorazine), a medication for mental health disorders
  • certain potassium-sparing diuretics, such as eplerenone (Inspra) or spironolactone (Aldactone)
  • oxymetholone (Anadrol), which treats low red blood cell count
  • methyldopa (Aldomet), which is a treatment for high blood pressure

People who are experiencing breast pain should consult a doctor to see if any of their prescriptions are the source of their symptoms.

Cyclic vs. noncyclic pain

There are certain fundamental differences between cyclic pain and noncyclic pain, which is linked to the menstrual cycle. The table below contrasts and compares the two forms of pain:

Cyclic painNoncyclic pain
varies with hormones in the menstrual cycledoes not vary with the menstrual cycle
common among females in their 20s, 30s, and 40smore common after menopause
generally affects both breasts equallytends to affect one or more localized areas of one breast
may occur alongside tenderness, swelling, or lumpinesspain often feels sharp and burning

Hormones may not be the main cause of cyclic pain, especially if one breast hurts more than the other.

Keeping a symptom diary can help you figure out if your pain is cyclic. Alternatively, to discover if there is a trend, people can utilize applications that track menstruation and its associated symptoms.

It can be beneficial to provide a numerical value to the pain severity every day during one or more menstrual cycles in a symptom diary. It’s possible that the pain is cyclic if it happens or gets worse at the same time every cycle. During a doctor’s visit, people might discuss this information with them.

Managing breast pain

Mastalgia pain can be alleviated in a variety of people. These are some of them:

  • wearing a supportive bra that fits well
  • taking OTC pain medications
  • limiting the intake of chocolate, coffee, tea, and soft drinks
  • applying hot or cold compresses to the breasts
  • getting regular exercise
  • engaging in relaxation methods to reduce stressanxiety, and tension

Before attempting self-care practices, consult with a healthcare professional to ensure that they are acceptable. Medical intervention may be required in some cases.

Conclusion

Breast pain, also known as mastalgia, can be caused by a variety of factors. It’s possible that this ailment is cyclic or noncyclic. If the discomfort is cyclic, it is caused by the menstrual cycle’s fluctuating hormones.

PMS, fibrocystic breast changes, traumas and sprains, and inflammation around the ribs can all cause noncyclic breast pain. This symptom is sometimes caused by cysts or infections.

Despite the condition that breast cancer is rarely the cause of breast discomfort, anyone experiencing this symptom should see a doctor to rule it out.

Sources:

  • https://www.karger.com/Article/FullText/505364
  • https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/index.htm
  • https://about-cancer.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/breast-cancer/symptoms
  • https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=breast-conditions-90-P01589
  • https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/cyst-in-breast
  • https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/benign/cysts
  • https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-pain/
  • https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/311833
  • https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/breast-pain/
  • https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/costochondritis/
  • https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/benign/fibrocystic-changes
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK562196/
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK551609/
  • https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/benign/mastalgia
  • https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/non-cancerous-breast-conditions/mastitis.html
  • https://www.womenshealth.gov/menstrual-cycle/premenstrual-syndrome
  • https://www.breastcancer.org/treatment/side_effects/scar_tissue
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK562195/

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