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Breast pain

Contents of this page:


Female Breast
Female Breast
Breast pain
Breast pain

Alternative Names    Return to top

Pain - breast; Mastalgia; Mastodynia; Breast tenderness

Definition    Return to top

Breast pain is any discomfort or pain in the breast.

Considerations    Return to top

There are many possible causes for breast pain. For example, hormone level changes related to menstruation or pregnancy are often responsible for breast tenderness. Some degree of swelling and tenderness just before your period is normal.

Although many women with pain in one or both breasts may fear breast cancer, breast pain is NOT a common symptom of cancer.

Boys and men have breast tissue. If a male has breast tissue that can be seen, the condition is called gynecomastia. Adolescent boys can have some breast swelling and tenderness as a part of normal development. This is due to hormone changes, and is similiar to breast tenderness in women.

Causes    Return to top

Some degree of breast tenderness is normal. The discomfort may be caused by hormonal changes due to:

Soon after childbirth, your breasts may become swollen with milk. This can be very painful and is usually accompanied by swelling. If you also have an area of redness, call your health care provider. Breastfeeding itself may also cause breast pain.

Other common causes of breast pain include:

Fibrocystic breast changes are also a common cause of breast pain. Fibrocystic breast tissue contains lumps and bumps that tend to be more tender just before your menstrual period.

Certain medications may also cause breast pain, including digitalis preparations, methyldopa (Aldomet), spironolactone (Aldactone), certain diuretics, Anadrol, and chlorpromazine.

Shingles can lead to pain felt in the breast if the painful blistering rash appears on the skin over one of your breasts.

Home Care    Return to top

For tips on how to manage pain from fibrocystic breasts, see breast lumps.

Certain birth control pills may help relieve breast pain. Ask your doctor if this therapy is right for you.

If you have a breast infection, you may need antibiotics. Look for symptoms of infection such as redness in the area, nipple discharge, or fever. Contact your doctor if you have these symptoms.

If you have a breast injury, immediately apply a cold compress such as an ice pack (wrapped in a cloth -- don't apply directly to the skin) for 15 to 20 minutes. Take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as ibuprofen to reduce your chance of developing persistent breast pain or swelling.

When to Contact a Medical Professional    Return to top

Call your doctor if you have:

What to Expect at Your Office Visit    Return to top

Your health care provider will perform a breast examination and ask questions about your breast pain, such as:

Tests that may be done include:

Treatment may include the following:

Your health care provider should schedule a follow-up visit in case the symptoms have not gone away in a given period of time. Your doctor may recommend that you see a specialist if the symptoms do not go away or if you have a complicated condition.

Prevention    Return to top

Wear a well-fitting bra for support, especially if your breasts are large.

Perform a monthly breast self-exam 3-5 days after your period (when the breast tissue is the least tender). This is important to feel for any changes in your breast tissue. If you detect any change from the previous month, notify your doctor.

References    Return to top

Valea FA, Katz VL. Breast diseases: diagnosis and treatment of benign and malignant disease. In: Katz VL, Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2007:chap 15.

Update Date: 12/31/2008

Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Redmond, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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