Nipple Pain Symptoms
The nipple is the center of the areola (the darker-skinned or pigmented portion of the breast) on both men and women and can vary in color, size, shape, and positioning from person to person. Pain or soreness of the nipple can be related to multiple conditions that range in severity, and associated symptoms can be varied.
Take note of the following symptoms in relation to 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.)
- A fixed lump or bump in the breast or chest area
- Changes in the menstrual cycle (i.e. missed period)
- Increased urinary frequency
It is very important to follow-up on these symptoms with your physician promptly in order to determine the correct cause.
Nipple Pain Causes
The causes of nipple pain can vary widely in severity. Most of these causes are not life-threatening, but some, such as cancerous conditions, are obviously very serious. This makes the appropriate follow-up with your physician of utmost importance.
Environmental causes can sometimes be controlled or limited to lifestyle changes.
- Friction: A bra that is too loose or shirt that is too tight can rub against the nipples and cause irritation that results in pain. However, if your nipple pain is not due to friction and sensitivity, your physician may discuss the following causes below as well.
- Trauma: Direct or indirect trauma to the breast can result in transient nipple pain.
Nipple pain can be associated with hormonal fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone related to the menstrual cycle and other bodily processes in women.
- Normal hormone fluctuations: The breasts, and in turn, the nipples, are extremely sensitive to these hormone changes. Pain in this area can worsen as women get older due to increased sensitivity to hormones as women age.
- Pregnancy: This is a major hormonal change that causes the breasts to swell (engorge) and push against the nipples causing discomfort and pain. 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 [1,2].
- Improper latching: In relation to pregnancy, breastfeeding can result in pain due to the latching of the infant itself. If your baby is latching improperly you will experience symptoms.
- 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. Be concerned and make an appointment with your physician immediately if you notice breast pain in the context of :
- 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 Possible 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 usually resolve with the onset of menses.
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
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 or medical provider 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 or NSAIDs such as ibuprofen in order to relieve pain.
- Ice/heat: Using hot or cold compresses on the breast/nipple can reduce swelling and pain.
- Use proper breastfeeding techniques: 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.
- Limit other irritants: Take note of detergents or bath soaps that may be irritating your skin.
After consulting your physician, they may prescribe the following.
- Hormone therapy: If your nipple pain is related to hormonal causes, your physician may also prescribe oral contraceptives or estrogen blockers in order to control the fluctuation 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.
When to schedule an appointment
The following symptoms signal a more serious underlying issue that requires more investigation. Make an appointment if you have nipple pain that:
- Continues to persist (more than a couple of weeks)
- Is worsening over time despite at-home remedies
- Begins to interfere with everyday activity
Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Nipple Pain
To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:
- 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?
The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.
If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions
Take a quiz to find out why you're having nipple pain
Nipple Pain Symptom Checker Statistics
People who have experienced nipple pain have also experienced:
- 11% Bloody Vaginal Discharge
- 8% Vaginal Bleeding
- 7% Abdominal Cramps (Stomach Cramps)
People who have experienced nipple pain were most often matched with:
- 60% Non-Specific Breast Pain
- 20% Premenstrual Syndrome
- 20% Symptoms Of Menopause
People who have experienced nipple pain had symptoms persist for:
- 36% Less than a week
- 26% Less than a day
- 15% One to two weeks
Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).
- Kent JC, Ashton E, Hardwick CM, et al. Nipple pain in breastfeeding mothers: Incidence, causes and treatments. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2015;12(10):12247-12263. NCBI Link
- Page T, Lockwood C, Guest K. Management of nipple pain and/or trauma associated with breast-feeding. JBI Library of Systematic Reviews. NCBI Link
- Feroze K, Manoj J, Venkitakrishnan S. Allergic contact dermatitis mimicking mammary paget's disease. Indian Journal of Dermatology. 2008;53(3):154-5. NCBI Link
- Breast cancer signs and symptoms. American Cancer Society. Updated September 22, 2017. American Cancer Society Link
- Morland-Schultz K, Hill PD. Prevention of and therapies for nipple pain: A systematic review. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing. 2005;34(4):428-437. NCBI Link