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Mastalgia

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Overview

Mastalgia, commonly known as breast pain, is a common condition amongst women of all ages around the world. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of breast pain, it is usually attributed to hormone levels, medications, breast size, breast structure and so on. 

Types of Mastalgia

Breast pain or mastalgia is commonly divided into two main categories: 

  1. Cyclic mastalgia
    Cyclic mastalgia or breast pain affects menstruating women and generally occurs due to the changing hormone levels during menstruation. It starts towards the end of the menstrual cycle, usually a week before your period starts. Cyclic mastalgia usually affects the outer and upper parts of both breasts as well as the underarm area. It is accompanied by swollen tender breasts and the symptoms should fade away with the progress of your menstrual cycle.  
  2. Noncyclic mastalgia
    Non cyclic mastalgia or breast pain isn’t linked to your menstrual cycle. It may feel like localized burning, sharp pain or soreness in the breast. It is common amongst menopausal women and can be chronic or acute. Non cyclic breast pain usually occurs due to costochondritis or inflammation of the junction of the bone and the cartilage of the ribcage. You should seek medical attention for the appropriate treatment.   

About The Condition

Almost every woman has gone through some form of breast pain at one point in their lives. Mestalgia (breast pain) if cyclic usually occurs during different parts of the menstrual cycle and is attributed to the changing hormone levels. Non cyclic breast pain can be a result of many underlying conditions such as breast cysts, breastfeeding, mastitis (infection of the milk ducts), engorgement, diet or extramammary concerns amongst others. Research is still being conducted to understand the causes behind cyclic and noncyclic breast pain and the significance of hormone levels in the same.  

Risk factors for Mastalgia

There are no defined risk factors to identify women more likely to experience breast pain or mastalgia. However, a few possible risk factors to keep an eye on are: 

  1. Smoking tobacco  
  2. Breast size (Larger sized breasts are more likely to experience breast pain) 
  3. Use of ill-fitting or incorrect sized brassieres  
  4. Use of medications that can impact hormone levels (such as birth control pills) 
  5. Menstruation (linked to cyclic mastalgia) 
  6. Chest wall pain (from activities like rowing, raking, shovelling etc) 
  7. Pregnancy

Symptoms

The main symptom of mastalgia is pain in the breast region. It can be sharp, radiating or be all over the breast. It can affect either one or both breasts. If it occurs periodically aligned with your menstrual cycle, it is called cyclic mastalgia and is usually normal. In case it is chronic, you should seek medical attention to identify the root cause and get the appropriate treatment  

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Diagnosis of Mastalgia

  1. Breast exam
    Your doctor would initially perform a physical breast exam to identify the tender or painful region as well as to see any obvious abnormalities in the breast (such as lumps).
  2. Mammogram/Ultrasound
    Based on the type of pain, age of the patient and the findings from the physical exam, the doctor might recommend these imaging scans to check for anything out of the ordinary inside the breast.
  3. Breast Biopsy
    Tissue samples from the affected region might be examined to rule out breast cancer.

Treatment of Mastalgia

Based on the reason behind mastalgia your doctor can recommend any one of or a combination of the following treatments: 

  1. Follow a low-fat, rich in omega-3 fatty acid diet 
  2. Switch to a supportive bra 
  3. Warm compress to the affected region 
  4. Reduce salt consumption 
  5. Medications such as topical nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to ease the pain 
  6. For pain caused by ongoing medical treatments, alternative medication might be recommended 
  7. Breast reduction surgery (for breast pain caused by size) 

Prevention

In most cases, mastalgia can’t be prevented. Using proper fitting, supportive bras, avoiding unhealthy habits like smoking and following a healthy diet can reduce some of the risk factors.   

FAQs

1. When should I visit a doctor for my breast pain?

In most cases, breast pain should abate on its own. However, you should seek medical attention if: 

  • It is interfering in your daily life 
  • If it seems to be becoming more severe with time 
  • If it is only in one breast or concentrated in one area 
  • If it lasts longer than two weens 
  • If it is accompanied by a lump or more 

If the pain you experience is sudden and you also have chest pain, seek emergency case as it might be a sign of a heart attack.

2. Does my breast pain mean I have breast cancer?

If breast pain is a solitary symptom it doesn’t necessarily mean breast cancer, even if it is noncyclic. However, if it doesn’t seem to go away on its own, you should seek medical help. If it is accompanied by other symptoms such as discharge, redness or lumps etc, immediate check-up should be done as it might indicate a more severe underlying cause 

3. Can mastalgia be in one breast?

Mastalgia can affect either one or both the breasts. It can be felt all over or might seem to radiate in the underarm region, it can also be acute and localised. To identify if it is cyclic mastalgia, you can chart your breast pain and compare it with your menstrual cycle to identify a link.  

 
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