Nipple Pain in Men and Women: 10 Causes & Treatment Options
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Do you have nipple pain when you breastfeed? Do you have sharp or burning nipple pain? Learn about the ten most common causes of nipple pain in men and women.
Nipple pain symptoms
The nipple is the center of the areola, the darker-skinned or pigmented portion of the breast. The nipple can vary in color, size, shape, and general position in both men and women. Pain or soreness of the nipple is related to a variety of conditions that range in severity. You should see a physician for nipple pain that worsens or persists, or if you experience other concerning symptoms.
Common characteristics of nipple pain
The following characteristics may also describe your nipple pain.
- Cracking or excessive dryness of your nipple
- Changes to the color of the nipple or skin around the nipple (areola)
- Change in the texture of the nipple or areola
- Blood or other unexpected nipple discharge (white, milky, etc.)
Common accompanying symptoms
You should look out for the following symptoms in addition to nipple pain.
- A fixed lump or bump in the breast or chest area
- Changes in the menstrual cycle (i.e. missed period)
- Increased urinary frequency
Nipple pain causes
The causes of nipple pain can vary widely, but the following details may help you better understand your symptoms. You should see a physician for persistent nipple pain, especially if you have reason to believe it is due to an infection or cancer.
Environmental causes are due to lifestyle habits or certain events.
- Friction: A bra that is too loose or shirt that is too tight can rub against the nipples and cause irritation and pain.
- Trauma: Direct or indirect trauma to the breast can result in transient nipple pain.
Cyclical causes in women
Nipple pain is associated with estrogen and progesterone fluctuations during the menstrual cycle.
- Normal hormone fluctuations: The breasts, and in turn, the nipples, are extremely sensitive to hormone changes. Pain in this area can worsen as you age due to increased hormone sensitivity.
- Pregnancy: This is a major hormonal change that causes the breasts to swell and push against the nipples. If you are sexually active, have missed a period, and are experiencing nipple pain, take a pregnancy test.
Breastfeeding is a common cause of nipple pain due to the following.
- Improper latching: In relation to pregnancy, breastfeeding can result in pain from improper latching.
- Infection: Infection of the milk ducts of the breast is known as mastitis. Mastitis can result in cracked, burning, or blistering nipples that may also cause red streaks on the breast. Though painful, this condition is common among women breastfeeding.
Symptoms of crusting, flaking, or blistering around your nipple in addition to pain may indicate a dermatologic condition called dermatitis. Dermatitis can be caused by an overreaction of your body's immune cells that results in inflammation. You may notice similar symptoms on other parts of the body and not just your nipples. However, dermatitis can also be caused by irritating detergents and soaps that you are using on your body.
Though less common, nipple pain can signal cancerous conditions. Make an appointment with your physician immediately if you notice breast pain in the context of the following.
- A new, fixed lump in the breast
- Changes in size or shape of the breast
- Changes in the color: Such as redness or inflammation
- Changes in skin texture: Such as wrinkling, puckering, or dimpling
- Rash or crusting of nipple discharge
5 nipple pain conditions
The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced nipple pain. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
Non-specific breast pain
Nonspecific breast pain, also called mastalgia or mastodynia, refers to tenderness or pain in the breast with no obvious cause. It almost always proves to have a benign (non-cancerous) cause.
Breast pain is most common in women aged 35 to 50 and still experiencing menstruation. Fibrocystic changes are common in this age group, where tiny, fluid-filled sacs form within breast tissue and might be felt as small, tender, but non-cancerous lumps.
Birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy, caffeine, and soy can cause breast tenderness in women of any age. A breast infection can cause painful lumps.
A medical provider should be seen, in order to rule out any serious condition and get treatment for the discomfort.
Diagnosis is made through patient history; physical examination; mammogram or breast ultrasound; and sometimes biopsy.
A breast infection will be treated with antibiotics. Large, painful cysts may have the fluid drained or be surgically removed. Lifestyle improvements regarding diet and exercise are often helpful, as well as adjustments to birth control pills or hormone therapy.
Top Symptoms: breast pain, breast swelling, armpit pain
Symptoms that always occur with non-specific breast pain: breast pain
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a condition that can produce emotional and physical symptoms in women in the days leading up to their menstrual cycle. Common symptoms include bloating, cramping, headaches, irritability, fatigue, and sleep and appetite changes. These symptoms..
Symptoms of menopause
Menopause is the name for the natural process by which the menstrual cycle (period) stops happening in a woman. Usually, the process is gradual (takes months or years) and occurs from the age of 45 to 55 years. Menopause is officially diagnosed once a woman stops having a period for 12 months continuously. A woman with menopause will notice a decrease in the number and regularity of her periods until they completely stop. In addition, she may notice a number of symptoms that occur as a result of decreased estrogen levels, such as hot flashes, changes in mood, sleep problems, vaginal dryness, changes in libido, and changes in sexual function. Certain medications exist that can decrease these symptoms.
Top Symptoms: fatigue, delay in or irregular periods, vaginal discharge, anxiety, trouble sleeping
Symptoms that always occur with symptoms of menopause: delay in or irregular periods
Breast infection (mastitis)
Mastitis is an infection of the breast tissue that results in breast pain, swelling, warmth and redness of the breast. Mastitis most commonly affects women who are breast-feeding (lactation mastitis), although sometimes this condition can occur in women who aren't breast-feeding.
Top Symptoms: fatigue, nausea, breast pain, signs of breast inflammation like redness, swelling or fever, fever
Symptoms that always occur with breast infection (mastitis): breast pain, signs of breast inflammation like redness, swelling or fever
Urgency: Primary care doctor
The earliest sign of pregnancy is typically a missed period, but many women do experience symptoms shortly after conception:
- Implantation bleeding may occur after six to twelve days, when the fertilized egg implants itself into the lining of the uterus. This can cause mild cramping with light bleeding or spotting.
- Fatigue and increased desire to sleep may happen within a week.
- Breast tenderness can start as soon as one to two weeks.
- Nausea ("morning sickness") can occur after two to eight weeks.
If pregnancy is suspected, testing should be done so that proper prenatal care can begin. It's important to avoid some behaviors during pregnancy, such as drinking alcohol or using certain drugs or medications, so an early diagnosis should be made.
Over-the-counter home pregnancy tests are available at any drugstore. A positive test is almost certainly correct, but a negative test in the face of other symptoms may be a false negative and should be tried again after a week.
Top Symptoms: fatigue, nausea or vomiting, stomach bloating, bloody vaginal discharge, vaginal bleeding
Symptoms that always occur with possible pregnancy: missed period
Symptoms that never occur with possible pregnancy: painful urination, severe abdominal pain
Nipple pain treatments and relief
Fortunately, most causes of nipple pain can be treated at home with simple lifestyle changes and remedies. However, you should consult your physician sooner than later if your nipple pain worsens or persists, or you are having trouble breastfeeding.
The following may be quite effective in soothing nipple pain.
- Wear bras that work for you: Invest in a supportive and comfortable bra that does not irritate the nipples.
- Pain medication: Take over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or NSAIDs such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) to relieve pain.
- Ice/heat: Use hot or cold compresses on the breast/nipple to reduce swelling or pain.
- Use proper breastfeeding techniques: If your pain is related to breastfeeding, try pumping your breast milk to prevent engorgement or see a lactation specialist.
- Limit other irritants: Take note of detergents or bath soaps that may be irritating your skin.
When to see a doctor
Make an appointment with your physician if you have nipple pain that continues, worsens, or interferes with your daily activities.
- Hormone therapy: If your nipple pain is related to hormonal causes, your physician may also prescribe oral contraceptives or estrogen blockers to control the fluctuations in your hormone levels.
- Antibiotics: Your physician will prescribe antibiotics if your breast pain is related to mastitis.
- Topical medications: If your nipple pain is related to dermatologic conditions, your physician may prescribe topical medications like steroids to help combat the underlying cause.
Questions your doctor may ask about nipple pain
- Any fever today or during the last week?
- Do your symptoms occur or worsen before or during your period?
- Have you given birth to any children?
- When was your last menstrual period?
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.
Dr. Gambrah-Lyles is a resident pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine (2019). She graduated cum laude and received her undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and Spanish from Washington University in St. Louis (2013). Her research explores the intersections between neurology, public health, and infectious disease. She has investigated nutrition and cerebral palsy in Botswana, and completed a year-long project in Brazil, researching growth and developmental outcomes of Zika virus infection in pediatric patients as a Doris Duke International Scholar. Dr. Gambrah-Lyles speaks four languages, loves staying active, and enjoys sharing her love for medicine through teaching and writing.
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