Breast pain (also known as mastalgia) is the sensation of pain felt in or around your breast.
Key points on breast pain
- Breast pain is common and most women experience breast pain at some time.
- It's usually not caused by breast cancer if it's your only symptom.
- The causes of breast pain depend on whether it is cyclical (comes every month with your menstrual cycle) or non-cyclical.
- Cyclical breast pain can be treated with self-care measures such as wearing a better-fitting bra during the day and healthy lifestyle measures.
- If your breast pain is non-cyclical, treatment will depend on the cause of your breast pain.
If you have any of the following symptoms, contact your GP or healthcare clinic immediately:
What are the causes of breast pain?
The causes of breast pain depend on whether it is cyclical or non-cyclical.
Causes of cyclical breast pain
Cyclical breast pain means the pain comes every month. It starts before your period, gets worse and then goes away when your period ends.
This is due to changes in the levels of hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone during your menstrual cycle. The pain usually affects the upper outer area of both breasts and can sometimes spread to your armpit. The pain can range from a dull ache to a burning sensation.
Causes of non-cyclical breast pain
Non-cyclical breast pain has no relation to your period. It can stay constant or come and go. The pain may affect one or both breasts. Women aged more than 40 years old are more likely to experience this.
Common causes include:
- breast infection or inflammation (mastitis or breast abscess)
- medicines such as the combined oral contraceptive pill, , other hormonal contraceptives, antidepressants or antipsychotics
- breast cysts or lumps
- menopause or menopausal hormone therapy.
Injuries or sprains to your chest wall, ribs, neck, shoulder or back can be felt as breast pain. This is called referred pain.
Sometimes breast pain occurs with no obvious cause.
How is breast pain diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask you questions related to your breast pain, including whether you have any other symptoms such as breast lumps. They will also ask about any history of breast disease or surgeries.
Your doctor will examine your breasts and may arrange some blood tests or imaging, such as an ultrasound scan or mammogram, depending on what they think is causing your breast pain.
How is breast pain treated?
Treatment depends on whether the pain is cyclical or non-cyclical.
Cyclical breast pain can be treated with self-care measures, including:
- wearing a supportive and better-fitting bra during the day
- wearing a sports bra when exercising
- wearing a soft support bra without underwire when you sleep
- reducing caffeine and fat in your diet
- stopping smoking if you smoke
- taking evening primrose oil (discuss this with your GP or pharmacist first if you have epilepsy or are taking other medicines)
- taking pain relief, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, as directed by your GP or pharmacist.
If your breast pain is non-cyclical, treatment will depend on the cause of your breast pain.
- Breast pain (mastalgia) Auckland Regional HealthPathways, NZ, 2020
|Dr Alice Miller trained as a GP in the UK and has been working in New Zealand since 2013. She has undertaken extra study in diabetes, sexual and reproductive healthcare, and skin cancer medicine. Alice has a special interest in preventative health and self-care, which she is building on by studying for the Diploma of Public Health with the University of Otago in Wellington.|