Read below about breast pain, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your breast pain from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Breast Pain Symptoms

The breasts are composed of tissue, fat, and glands that develop due to increases in hormones such as estrogen during puberty. Breast pain, or mastalgia, is a common condition among women of childbearing age [1].

Breast pain can differ from woman to woman, but common breast pain symptoms often include:

  • Tenderness
  • Sharpness or burning
  • Tightness around the breast tissue

It is important to take note of when your breast pain symptoms occur. Breast pain is often characterized as cyclical or non-cyclical pain.

Cyclical breast pain often involves both breasts and includes symptoms such as:

  • Occuring in close relation to your menstrual cycle. It may begin a few days before the start of your cycle
  • Sensation of fullness or heaviness in the breasts
  • Breast swelling
  • Pain that radiates to the underarm or upper and outer portions of the breast
  • Improves during your menstrual cycle and resolves on its own when the menstrual cycle is over

Non-cyclical breast pain usually involves one breast, and includes symptoms such as:

  • Burning or soreness of the breast
  • Constant pain throughout the month that is unrelated to the menstrual cycle

Women in their early 20s and 30s are most likely to experience symptoms related to cyclical breast pain, whereas women in their 40s to 50s who are transitioning or experiencing menopause often experience noncyclical breast pain symptoms [2,3].

Breast Pain Causes Overview

Fortunately, the majority of breast pain causes are limited and not life-threatening. However, it is still important to follow-up on your breast pain symptoms with your physician in order to get an appropriate diagnosis and care.

Hormonal causes:

  • Breast pain is divided into cyclical and non-cyclical causes because cyclical pain is associated with hormonal fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone.
  • The breasts are extremely sensitive to these hormone changes and often worsen as women get older due to increased sensitivity of the breasts.

    Breastfeeding-related causes:

Breastfeeding can result in pain due to the latching of the infant itself. If your baby is latching improperly you will experience breast pain symptoms. Moreover, you may experience breast pain due to problems associated with breastfeeding below:

  • 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 [4].

  • Engorgement: When the breasts become too full of milk, they enlarge and press against the skin, resulting in a tight, painful sensation.

Structural causes:

  • Size: Women with breasts that are larger or not proportional to their frames can experience breast pain that is related to pain in their neck and shoulder pain.
  • Extramammary: Pain or irritation of the chest, arms, or back muscles due to exercises and activities such as rowing, waterskiing, raking or shoveling can radiate to and affect the breasts.

Cancerous causes:

Though less common, breast pain can signal cancerous conditions. Be on alert and make an appointment with your physician immediately if you notice breast pain, especially if the pain is associated with other symptoms, such as [5]:

  • A new, fixed lump in the breast
  • Changes in size or shape of the breast
  • Changes in the color (redness, inflammation) or texture of the skin (wrinkling, puckering or dimpling)
  • Rash, crusting of nipple discharge.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Breast Pain

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced breast pain. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Fibrocystic Breast Changes

    Fibrocystic change is a generalized term used to describe a variety of benign changes in the breast. Symptoms of this condition are breast swelling or pain, as well as nodules, lumpiness, or nipple discharge.

    Relapsing, lasting years

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    breast lump, hard breast lump, nipple discharge, rope-like breast lump
    Symptoms that always occur with fibrocystic breast changes:
    breast lump
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Premenstrual Syndrome

    Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a very common condition. PMS has a variety of symptoms including cramping, mood swings, food cravings, fatigue, irritability, breast tenderness & depression.

    Symptoms of premenstrual syndrome can last all the way into menopause.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    stomach bloating, anxiety, constipation, depressed mood, breast pain
    Symptoms that never occur with premenstrual syndrome:
    constant sadness, severe sadness, disapearance of periods for over a year
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  3. 3.Possible Pregnancy

    In women of reproductive age, symptoms including missed period, weight gain, and nausea are indicative of pregnancy.

    9 months

    Rarity:
    Common
    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
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  4. 4.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.

    2-3 weeks with treatment

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    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
  5. 5.Breast Cyst

    A breast cyst is a fluid-filled sac (like a tiny balloon) inside the breast. Breast cysts are common in women. They might cause a little pain, but they are usually benign (not cancerous).

    Resolves with treatment but can recur

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    breast pain, breast lump, painful breast lump, movable breast lump
    Symptoms that always occur with breast cyst:
    breast lump
    Symptoms that never occur with breast cyst:
    armpit lump, fever
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

    Breast Pain Checker

    Take a quiz to find out why you’re having breast pain.

    Breast Pain Quiz
  6. 6.Fibroadenoma

    Fibroadenomas are solid, noncancerous breast tumors that occur most often in adolescent girls and women under the age of 30. You might describe a fibroadenoma as firm, smooth, rubbery or hard with a well-defined shape.

    Chronic if left un-treated

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    breast pain, breast lump, round breast lump, movable breast lump, painless breast lump
    Symptoms that always occur with fibroadenoma:
    breast lump
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder

    Premenstrual dysmorphic disorder is a condition that occurs 5-11 days before menstruation that causes depression-like symptoms, where you have depression-like symptoms, irritability, and tension.

    Symptoms of premenstrual dysmorphic disorder can be managed with a healthy lifestyle. In severe cases, antidepressants may be useful.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, stomach bloating, anxiety, depressed mood, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps)
    Symptoms that always occur with premenstrual dysphoric disorder:
    impaired social or occupational functioning, symptoms of depression, anxiety and emotional lability
    Symptoms that never occur with premenstrual dysphoric disorder:
    constant sadness, disapearance of periods for over a year
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  8. 8.Non - Specific Breast Pain

    Breast pain is either related to menstruation (cyclic) or not (noncyclic). It is common in pre-menopausal women and can also be a side effect of contraceptives that contain hormones like the pill, anticonceptive injections and intra-uterine devices.

    7 days

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    breast pain, breast swelling, armpit pain
    Symptoms that always occur with non-specific breast pain:
    breast pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  9. 9.Breast Cancer

    Breast cancer affects one in eight women during their lives. It is caused by uncontrolled and fast growth of damaged cells in the breast tissue. These cells can also move to the lymph nodes and sometimes other organs. The main symptom of breast cancer is a hard or firm, non-mobile, usually non-tender lump in the breast that increases in size.

    Indefinite

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    breast pain, armpit lump, breast mass or retraction, breast lump, nipple discharge
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  10. 10.Breast Abscess

    A breast infection is an infection in the tissue of the breast. Breast infections are usually caused by a common bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus, found on normal skin.

    2-3 weeks with treatment

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    nausea, breast pain, signs of breast inflammation like redness, swelling or fever, fever, chills
    Symptoms that always occur with breast abscess:
    breast pain, signs of breast inflammation like redness, swelling or fever
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Breast Pain Treatments and Relief

Treatment will depend on whether your pain is cyclical or non-cyclical and the specific cause.

Luckily, cyclical breast pain can be treated at home with simple lifestyle changes such as:

  • Investing in a supportive and comfortable bra that you can wear when your pain is at its worst
  • Taking over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen in order to relieve breast pain symptoms
  • Using hot or cold compresses on the breast to reduce swelling and pain
  • If your pain is breastfeeding related, try pumping your breast milk in order to prevent engorgement and see a lactation specialist in order to help train your baby in proper latching.

Make an appointment with your physician if your breast pain:

  • Persists for a prolonged time, more than a couple of weeks
  • Is limited to only one specific area of your breast
  • Is worsening over time despite at-home remedies
  • Begins to interfere with everyday activity

To combat cyclical breast pain symptoms, your physician may also prescribe oral contraceptives or estrogen blockers in order to control the fluctuation in your hormone levels. Your physician will provide antibiotics if your breast pain is related to mastitis.

FAQs About Breast Pain

Here are some frequently asked questions about breast pain.

Why do I only have breast pain in one breast?

There are many causes of pain in one breast and not the other. Usually, this type of pain is not associated with a menstrual cycle. If it is associated with a menstrual cycle, it more likely to be caused by cyclical changes in breast tissue that can cause increased pain in the breast. Non-cyclical causes include things like diet and lifestyle, such as smoking, having larger breasts, or wearing improperly fitting bras. Dilating of the ducts of the breast — a phenomenon called ductal ectasia — may also lead to breast pain on one side [6]. Infections of breastfeeding mothers like mastitis can also lead to swelling, warmth, and one-sided breast pain.

Why do I have breast pain before my periods?

You likely have breast pain before your periods because you have fibrocystic changes of the breast. These changes occur as your hormones prepare you to menstruate. These hormones also cause changes in your breast tissue that can cause your breast tissue to become more tender.

What causes breast pain after menopause?

Breast pain after menopause can be caused most frequently by hormone replacement therapy, in which female hormones cause increased sensitivity of the breast tissue. This may spontaneously resolve over time if you continue to take your medications regularly.

Can stress and anxiety cause breast pain?

No, stress and anxiety generally do not cause breast pain or affect breast pain in any significant way. Severe physical stress, for example, among individuals who are undergoing situations like starvation or a severe bodily injury, may cause menstruation to stop as well as cyclical pains associated with menstruation.

What does it feel like when your breasts are tender?

If a breast is tender, it may mean that the entire breast is sensitive to touch and hurts when it is touched. This sort of tenderness may indicate a problem with the skin such as with an infection or other cause of inflammation. There are also more local varieties of tenderness. Tenderness can occur at the nipple or within the breast tissue when pressed upon. This can be caused by natural changes associated with aging, a menstrual period, a benign cyst, or even more dangerous issues such as infections or malignancies.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Breast Pain

  • Q.Do your symptoms occur or worsen before or during your period?
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Have you given birth to any children?
  • Q.When was your last menstrual period?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our breast pain symptom checker to find out more.

Breast Pain Quiz

Breast Pain Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced breast pain have also experienced:

    • 10% Bloody Vaginal Discharge
    • 7% Rib Pain
    • 6% Vaginal Bleeding
  • People who have experienced breast pain had symptoms persist for:

    • 36% Less Than a Week
    • 26% Less Than a Day
    • 15% One to Two Weeks
  • People who have experienced breast pain were most often matched with:

    • 60% Fibrocystic Breast Changes
    • 20% Premenstrual Syndrome
    • 20% Possible Pregnancy
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

A.I. Health Assistant

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having breast pain

Breast Pain Quiz

References

  1. Kataria K, Dhar A, Srivastava A, Kumar S, Goyal A. A systematic review of current understanding and management of mastalgia. Indian J Surg. 2013;76(3):217-222. NCBI Link.
  2. Breast pain. Breast Cancer Care. Updated November 2018. Breast Cancer Care Link.
  3. Newman A. How to tackle mastalgia - Medical Observer. Jean Hailes. Published October 6, 2017. Jean Hailes Link.
  4. Marshall SA, Husney A, Romito K, Jones K, eds. Mastitis while breastfeeding. University of Michigan: Michigan Medicine. Updated September 5, 2018. UofM Health.
  5. Simon S. Breast cancer symptoms: What you need to know. American Cancer Society. Published September 27, 2018. American Cancer Society Link.
  6. Duct ectasia. American Cancer Society. Published September 20, 2017. American Cancer Society Link.