Symptoms A-Z

Swollen Breast Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

Understand your swollen breast symptoms, including 9 causes & common questions.

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Swollen Breast Symptoms

The breasts are composed of fat, connective tissue, milk ducts, and glands. Because of these components, the breasts are prone to swelling, which is simply the result of fluid buildup in your body's tissues.

Common accompanying symptoms of a swollen breast

In addition to breast swelling, you may also experience hard lumps in the breast. Though this is not always a cause for concern, it can also be a sign of breast cancer [3]. Symptoms you're likely to experience include:

  • Tenderness or soreness
  • Veins in the breast that are more visible
  • Redness or warmth to the touch
  • Feeling of heaviness in your breast
  • Changes in texture to the skin of your breasts

More serious symptoms

See your doctor promptly if you notice the following symptoms in addition to swelling or lumps in the breast:

  • A new, fixed lump in the breast: Especially one that doesn't change with your menstrual cycle
  • A cracked nipple: Or excessive dryness of your nipple
  • Changes to the color of the nipple or skin around the nipple
  • Changes to the texture of the nipple or skin of the breast: Such as wrinkling, puckering, or dimpling
  • Unexpected nipple discharge

Swollen Breast Causes

Breast swelling can signal either harmless or life-threatening issues, making it important to see a physician to get a proper diagnosis.

Cyclical or reproductive causes

The breast is very sensitive to fluctuations in the hormones estrogen and progesterone. These hormones are essential to the menstrual cycle and a woman's reproductive system. Before the beginning of each menstrual cycle, estrogen levels increase, causing the breasts to enlarge and retain water. This results in breast swelling and associated symptoms [1,2]. Pregnancy can cause hormone fluctuations that can result in breast swelling and tenderness. Breastfeeding can also cause swelling due to infection and engorgement.

  • Infection: Infection of the milk ducts of the breast is known as mastitis [4]. Mastitis can result in cracked or blistering nipples that may also cause red streaks on the breast. The inflammation from the infection can cause pain and swelling that is very common among women breastfeeding.
  • Engorgement: This occurs when the breasts become too full of milk. The breasts enlarge and become swollen, pressing against the skin. This can also result in a tight, painful sensation as well.

Growths

Growths or lumps in the breast are not necessarily a sign of cancer. However, there are several distinct symptoms to look out for that could indicate a malignant (cancerous) lump.

  • Noncancerous: Some women experience very pronounced changes in their breast tissue in response to fluctuation in hormones. These changes are called fibrocystic changes or fibrocystic breasts and can result in multiple, tender, sometimes painful breast lumps. The lumps are either the result of excess growth of fibrous tissue or enlargement of the breast ducts and glands. Fibrocystic changes are noncancerous lumps that often appear right before your menstrual cycle or during [5].
  • Cancerous: Breast swelling can be a symptom of breast cancer. Some types of breast cancers result in a hardened lump that results in swelling, and others block lymph vessels that also result in swelling. Any lumps or breast swelling that co-occurs with cracked nipples, nipple discharge, or other nipple changes must be followed-up with your physician [6].

Medications

Medications that contain hormones or affect hormone levels can also cause breast swelling. For example, contraceptive medications that contain estrogen can often cause breast swelling and symptoms such as soreness and heaviness very similar to those related to pre-menstrual swelling.

9 Possible Swollen Breast Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced swollen breast. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

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.

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

Plugged breast duct

If you're making milk faster than it's getting expressed, it can get backed up in the duct. When this happens, the tissue around the duct may become swollen and inflamed and press on the duct, causing a blockage.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: breast pain, breast lump, painful breast lump

Symptoms that never occur with plugged breast duct: fever, breast redness

Urgency: Primary care doctor

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).

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 abscess

A breast abscess is a collection of infected fluid, or pus, within the breast that is generally painful, and may cause fever, chills, fatigue, and body aches.

A breast abscess is a complication of mastitis, an infection of the breast tissue, that develops most commonly in breastfeeding women. ...

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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.

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

Premenstrual syndrome

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...

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.

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

Breast cancer

There are several types of breast cancer, depending on the part of the breast where it starts. The most common types are ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), invasive ductal carcinoma and invasive lobular carcinoma.

Women over age 50 with a family history of the disease, and/or certain genetic factors, are most at risk, but anyone can get breast cancer at any age. It is rare in men but does occur.

Symptoms include a lump, thickening, or pain anywhere in the breast or armpit; red, flaky, or irritated breast or nipple skin; nipple discharge; and any area of irregular skin or misshapenness.

Many harmless conditions can cause similar signs, so it is important to see a medical provider about any of these symptoms.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination; imaging such as ultrasound, mammogram, or MRI; and sometimes biopsy.

Treatment involves a combination of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.

The best prevention is a combination of screening mammograms as recommended by the medical provider, and monthly self-examination.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: breast pain, armpit lump, breast mass or retraction, breast lump, nipple discharge

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Possible pregnancy

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.

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

Swollen Breast Treatments and Relief

Treatment for breast swelling will depend on the cause. If your swollen breast symptoms worsen or persist, you should see your doctor.

At-home treatments

You may be able to relieve swollen breast symptoms at home with the following at remedies.

  • Wear a supportive bra
  • Ice or heat: Apply heat or ice (covered in a cloth or bag) to your breasts every 15 minutes.
  • Pain medication: Use over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or other NSAIDs like naproxen (Aleve) to relieve soreness and tenderness.

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your physician as soon as you notice swollen breast symptoms in order to get the appropriate treatment.

  • Hormonal treatment: If your breast swelling is caused by hormonal changes, your doctor may suggest contraceptive methods such as birth control pills. Pills that contain less estrogen may relieve breast swelling and its associated symptoms. However, if your current contraceptive method is the cause of your symptoms, your physician will discuss available alternatives.
  • Antibiotics: If your swelling is the result of infection from breastfeeding or other causes, your physician will prescribe antibiotics.
  • Cancer treatment: If your swelling is the result of breast cancer, your physician will discuss a treatment plan based on the type, location, and stage of your cancer. Common treatments include chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, or a combination of the three options.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Swollen Breast

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Are you sexually active?
  • Do you currently use estrogen as a hormone replacement therapy?
  • Do you feel pain when you urinate?
  • Do you drink alcohol?

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 what might be causing your swollen breast

Swollen Breast Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced swollen breast have also experienced:

  • 11% Breast Pain
  • 3% Rib Pain On One Side
  • 3% Bloody Vaginal Discharge

People who have experienced swollen breast were most often matched with:

  • 40% Breast Infection (Mastitis)
  • 30% Plugged Breast Duct
  • 30% Breast Cyst

People who have experienced swollen breast had symptoms persist for:

  • 41% Less than a week
  • 16% Over a month
  • 16% 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”).

Swollen Breast Symptom Checker

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References

  1. Breast Changes and Conditions. National Institutes of Health: National Cancer Institute. Updated Oct. 23, 2018. National Cancer Institute Link
  2. Normal Breast Development and Changes. Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library. Johns Hopkins Medicine Link
  3. Klein S. Evaluation of Palpable Breast Masses. Am Fam Physician. 2005 May 1;71(9):1731-1738. AAFP Link
  4. Boakes E, Woods A, Johnson N, Kadoglou N. Breast Infection: A Review of Diagnosis and Management Practices. Eur J Breast Health. 2018;14(3):136-143. Published July 1, 2018. NCBI Link
  5. Fibrocystic Breasts. University of Michigan: Michigan Medicine. Updated May 14, 2018. U of M Health Link
  6. Breast Cancer Signs and Symptoms. American Cancer Society. Updated Sept. 22, 2017. American Cancer Society Link

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.