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breast pain, breast pain causes, swollen breasts, mastodynia

Breast pain: 10 reasons your breasts may hurt

Breast pain, also known as mastalgia or mastodynia, is a common condition. About 60-70% of women experience breast pain at some point in their life. However, only 10-20% of these cases require medical attention.

The severity of breast pain may vary, ranging from mild breast tenderness to burning sensation or stabbing pain in the breast. Similarly, you could experience pain in both breasts or pain in one breast alone, such as pain under the left or right breast.

Breast pain causes

There are several breast pain causes; some of these include:

1. Poorly-fitted bra

One of the most typical breast pain reasons is a poorly-fitting bra. About 80% of women wear the wrong bra size.

Bras that are either too big or old and stretched out will do a poor job at supporting your breasts. Consequently, it can cause discomfort and soreness not only to your breasts but also to your neck, shoulders, and back. Conversely, tight bras can compress your chest and result in breast sensitivity.

2. Breast cysts

Breast cysts are yet another common reason for breast pain. The filling up of fluid in the lobules or ducts can result in cyst formation, which, although asymptomatic, can be rather painful during your periods.

Cysts that are closer to the surface are softer, whereas the deeper cysts are hard lumps in the breast that hurts relatively more. Hereditary could put some women at higher risk of developing breast cysts.

However, if you notice the formation of new lumps or worsening in pain, consider consulting your doctor.

3. Hormone medication

Breast tenderness and pain is a side effect of medication, hormone supplements, and replacements. Several oral contraceptives contain reproductive hormones like estrogen and progesterone, which could cause breast soreness. Thus, if you are on birth control pills or are undergoing infertility treatment or hormone replacement therapy, the medication could be the reason behind breast pain.

4. Chest wall pain

Have you noticed a sharp pain in your right breast that comes and goes as you carry out household chores or lift heavy things? The chances are that you are experiencing pain in your breast bone.

Muscular strains, characterised by sharp, shooting pain in breast, leads to sternum pain. In this case, the source of the pain is your pectoral muscles. The pecs are located beneath and around your breasts. Hence, any strain to these muscles could make it appear that you have breast pain.

Typically, this kind of pain is limited to pain in one breast.

5. Costochondritis

Costosternal syndrome, also known as Costochondritis, is an inflammatory disease of the cartilage that connects the breastbone to the rib. Women aged 40 and above are more susceptible to this syndrome. 

Those suffering from Costochondritis may also experience a burning sensation in their breast, in addition to pain in the breastbone. This condition often co-exists with autoimmune diseases like arthritis. However, it can also occur due to an injury or physical strain.

6. Fibrocystic breast changes

Fibrocystic breast changes are also known as cyclic mastalgia due to its periodic nature. It results in lumpy and swollen breasts due to the buildup of fibrous tissues and fluid-filled cysts. These cysts may enlarge before the onset of your period. The breast pain or tenderness before periods appears on the upper and outer areas of the breasts, and you may also notice nipple discharge.

Fortunately, this condition is harmless. More than 50% of women have experienced fibrocystic breast changes at some point in their lives. Further, it is more common for women between the ages of 20 and 50. 

7. Mastitis

An infection of the breast tissues can lead to mastitis. This painful condition is most common among breastfeeding women and is a result of clogged milk ducts. However, it can happen to anyone. Mastitis typically affects only one breast.

Symptoms of mastitis include swollen breasts, redness, breast tenderness, fever, fatigue, burning sensation in the breast, and chills. When left untreated, mastitis can develop an abscess. Hence, consult your physician immediately.

8. Breast Cancer

Interestingly, breast pain is rarely an indicator of cancer, as most breast cancers do not cause any pain. However, in the case of inflammatory breast cancer, the tumours can cause mastodynia and general discomfort.

If you notice painful lumps in the breast that do not subside even after menstruation, then you must immediately contact your doctor. Also, talk to your physician if you notice persistent breast pain without any known cause.

9. Menstruation

Some women experience breast pain before the start of their period. On the other hand, some develop sore breasts due to hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle. The release of hormones like estrogen and progesterone increase the size and number of milk ducts, which causes breast tenderness. In some cases, breast pain may radiate towards the armpit, arm, and back. The pain, swelling, and tenderness go away once your period ends.

10. Breast surgery

If you have undergone breast surgery, especially for cancer removal, you may experience breast pain of varying intensity. The pain could be due to the formation of scar tissues, inflammation, or nerve damage.

Patients report sharp pain in the breast for the initial days, followed by moderate pain after some passage of time. Some individuals may continue experiencing mild, persistent pain even six months after surgery.

Conclusion

Breast pain could be a common occurrence and not a cause of grave concern. Start by getting fitted for an appropriately-sized bra for extra support.

At the same time, several women experience cyclical breast pain that starts with their period and ends once their period is over. Similarly, women of reproductive age may also experience breast tenderness at some point before they reach menopause. Pregnancy and breastfeeding also lead to swollen breasts, which can cause breast pain.

Clearly, most of the breast pain causes are natural and unavoidable.

However, if you have been experiencing mastalgia for prolonged durations, new lump formations, blood discharge from nipples, and other symptoms, it is time to see a doctor.

Schedule a breast examination appointment with expert physicians as soon as possible.

Author: Dr. Rohan Khandelwal
Dr. Rohan Khandelwal is a renowned surgeon who has completed his fellowship in breast oncology and advanced breast surgery from esteemed institutes like The Aiello Breast Center, University of Maryland. He has garnered over 17 years of clinical experience from some of the most reputed healthcare facilities across the country. He specializes in benign and cancerous breast disorders in both genders. He is also the editor in chief for the New Indian Journal of Surgery and Journal of Young Medical Researcher.
 
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