Symptoms A-Z

Swollen Breasts Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

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

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Swollen Breasts Symptoms

Breasts come in all shapes and sizes. With all the ongoing concerns over breast issues, like breast cancer, noticeable swelling is sure to raise alarm. The good news is that swollen breasts are certainly not always a sign of the worst-case scenario. There are plenty of reasons why your breasts swell.

Changes in the breasts, including swelling, are common. Often, these changes are the result of normal bodily functions and no reason for concern. During certain stages of life, for example, during menstrual periods and pregnancy, breast swelling can often be expected [1].

Common accompanying symptoms of swollen breasts

Even if you believe the swelling is normal, however, it is important to monitor and document swollen breast symptoms such as the following:

The female breast is made up of tissue which overlays the chest muscles and extends from the collarbone to the breastbone. Their primary function is producing milk for feeding babies. From their initial development during adolescence through the later years in life, breasts can change in size and shape for a variety of reasons.

Swollen Breasts Causes

Swollen breasts may be a natural occurrence caused by natural changes in the female body. A traumatic event may cause bruising but is likely not the cause of the swelling. Of greatest concern is when breast swelling is caused by diseases that can be harmful to not only the breasts but the entire body. Common causes of swollen breasts include:

Hormonal causes

Hormonal causes are related to your current stage of life or other natural processes.

  • Pregnancy: Within weeks of conception, the breasts can begin to change to prepare for breastfeeding. The glands inside the breasts begin milk production causing swelling, tenderness, and lumpiness.
  • Natural causes: A woman's hormone levels change before/during menstrual periods, when approaching menopause, and after menopause. These changes can lead to swelling from excess fluid, increased amounts of estrogen in the breast ducts, or increased lumps in the breasts.

Medical causes

Medical causes of swollen breasts may be related to the following.

  • Infections: Bacteria found on the skin can enter the breast and cause swelling from an infection [2]. Typically, the bacteria enter through a crack in the nipple and infects the fatty tissue.
  • Tumors: Growths, both cancerous and noncancerous, can be found in the breasts and cause swelling [3-5]. While noticeable lumps are typically the most common symptom associated with breast cancer, swelling may occur prior to a lump being felt.

9 Possible Swollen Breasts Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced swollen breasts. 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 Breasts Treatments and Relief

Swollen breast symptoms should not be readily dismissed as nothing to worry about. There could potentially be a natural cause that is little reason for concern, but more significant issues will require professional diagnosis and treatment. For naturally occurring swelling, at-home remedies may help reduce inflammation and swelling.

At-home treatment

You can address your swollen breast symptoms at home by trying the following.

  • Exercise: Regular, vigorous exercise will help prepare the body for changes and maintain adequate blood flow throughout the body.
  • Clothing: A properly fitting bra, worn both day and night, will help reduce swelling.
  • Maintain a proper diet: Avoiding caffeine and minimizing fat intake limits breast swelling and tenderness.
  • Over-the-counter medications: NSAIDs (anti-inflammatory medications) like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) are widely accepted forms of medications designed to reduce swelling and pain.

When to see a doctor

Contacting your doctor is recommended to see if advanced treatments will be required, particularly if the following are experienced:

  • High fever: Especially while breastfeeding
  • Tender/swollen lymph nodes in the armpit
  • Swelling: Especially if combined with redness, tenderness, and breasts feeling hot to the touch
  • New or changing lumps in the breasts
  • Discharge from the nipple

Medical treatments

While it is a good idea to contact a medical professional for swollen breasts, general swelling associated with pregnancy, breastfeeding, or the menstrual cycle may be relieved with the basic recommended steps at home. When the swollen breasts cause is more serious, doctors will determine the best course of action, such as the following.

  • Prescription medications: Infections are often treated with prescribed antibiotics.
  • Surgical procedures: Breast cancer may result in the need to remove a part or all of the breast(s).
  • Cancer treatment: A wide range of medical treatments are often employed to treat various stages of cancer. These medications include hormone-blocking therapy, chemotherapy, and radiation.

Prevention

Awareness of potential complications and issues of the breasts have risen over the past several years. Swelling, while not always a cause for concern, is a symptom worthy of monitoring. Regular self-checks of the breasts is highly recommended to help identify potential issues as early as possible [6].

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Swollen Breasts

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

  • Do you feel pain when you urinate?
  • Are you sexually active?
  • When was your last menstrual period?
  • Do you currently use estrogen as a hormone replacement therapy?

The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

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Swollen Breasts Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced swollen breasts have also experienced:

  • 13% Bloody Vaginal Discharge
  • 9% Vaginal Bleeding
  • 6% Breast Pain

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

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

People who have experienced swollen breasts 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 Breasts Symptom Checker

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References

  1. Premenstrual breast changes. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated Jan. 7, 2019. MedlinePlus Link
  2. 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
  3. Breast Tumors. National Breast Cancer Foundation. National Breast Cancer Foundation Link
  4. Breast Cancer Signs and Symptoms. American Cancer Society Link. Updated Sept. 22, 2017. American Cancer Society Link
  5. Breast Cyst. National Breast Cancer Foundation Link. National Breast Cancer Foundation Link
  6. Breast self-exam. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus Link. Updated Jan. 7, 2019. MedlinePlus 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.