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Breast Pain

Alternative names

Pain - breast; Mastalgia; Mastodynia; Breast tenderness


Breast pain involves any discomfort or pain in the breast, such as premenstrual tenderness.


There are many causes for breast pain. For example, hormonal fluctuations related to menstruation or pregnancy are often responsible for breast tenderness. Some degree of swelling and tenderness just before your period is normal. The question is how tolerable (or intolerable) the discomfort is to you.

Although many women with pain in one or both breasts understandably fear breast cancer, breast pain is NOT a common symptom of cancer.

Boys and men have breast tissue. If a male has breast tissue that is visible, this is called gynecomastia. As a normal part of development, adolescent boys can have some breast swelling and tenderness. Like breast tenderness in women, this is due to hormonal changes.

Common Causes

Some degree of breast tenderness is normal, caused by hormonal fluctuations from:

  • Menstruation
  • Pregnancy
  • Puberty -- in both girls and boys
  • Breast feeding
  • Approach of menopause (once your menstrual periods have stopped completely, breast tenderness often goes away unless you are taking hormone replacement therapy)

Soon after childbirth, your breasts may become engorged with milk. This can be very painful and is usually accompanied by swelling. If you also have an area of redness, call your doctor.

Other common causes of breast pain include:

  • Fibrocystic breast changes
  • Lack of support from properly fitted bra
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Mastitis -- a blocked and infected milk duct that may have some redness, usually associated with breastfeeding
  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • Excessive caffeine use
  • Alcoholism with liver damage
  • Injury

Fibrocystic breast tissue is a common condition. It involves breast lumps and bumps throughout the breast tissue that tend to be more tender just before your menstrual period.

Certain medications may also cause breast pain, including digitalis preparations, aldomet, aldactone and other potassium-sparing diuretics, anadrol, and chlorpromazine.

Shingles can lead to pain felt in the breast if the painful blistering rash appears on the skin over one of your breasts.

Home Care

For tips on how to manage pain from fibrocystic breasts, see breast lumps.

Buy a new bra, professionally fitted in a deparment store or specialty store

Reduce your intake of caffeine and alcohol

Talk to your doctor about a medicine that reduces breat pain. (but not if you have a history of seizures).

If you have a breast infection, you will need antibiotics. Look for signs of infection like localized redness, nipple discharge, or fever. Contact your GP if you have these signs.

If you injure your breast, apply a cold compress such as an ice pack (wrapped in a cloth -- don't apply directly to the skin) for 15 to 20 minutes. You may consider taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as ibuprofen to reduce the likelihood of developing persistent breast pain or swelling. If you have not taken NSAID's before, you should ask your chemist or GP if they are suitable for you. If not, try panadol.

Call your doctor if you have:

  • Discharge from your nipples, especially blood or pus
  • Signs of a breast infection, including localized redness, pus, or fever
  • Noticed a new lump associated with the pain that does not go away after your menstrual period
  • Persistent, unexplained breast pain

What to expect at your health care provider's office

Your health care provider will perform a breast examination and ask questions about your breast pain, such as:

  • How long have you had the symptoms?
  • Are one or both of your breasts affected?
  • Do you have any nipple discharge?
  • Do you perform breast self-examination?
  • Have you noticed any lumps or anything unusual when you examine your breasts?
  • When was your last mammogram?
  • What other symptoms are present? Do you have fever?
  • What medication are you currently taking?

Treatment may include the following:

  • Pain relievers may be prescribed.
  • Changes to your diet may be suggested.
  • Certain medications may be changed or discontinued.


Wear a well-fitting brassiere for support, and buy new ones each year, as they get stretched out. This advice is especially important if your breasts are large.

Perform a monthly breast self-exam 3-5 days after your period (when the breast tissue is the least tender). This is important to feel for any changes in your breast tissue. If you detect any change from the previous month, it is important to notify your doctor.

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