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Breast Pain: Types, Causes and Treatment

By Dr. Sajjan Rajpurohit in Medical Oncology , Cancer Care / Oncology , Breast Cancer

Jan 17 , 2024 | 5 min read

Breast pain, or mastalgia, is a common concern among women and can manifest in various forms for numerous reasons. While it is often not indicative of a serious health issue, understanding the nature and underlying causes of breast pain is essential. This blog delves into the different types of breast pain, explores their potential causes, and discusses the associated risk factors. Furthermore, it highlights the importance of recognising when to seek medical advice and outlines possible treatments and preventive measures. Read further to know more about breast pain.

Types of Breast Pain

Breast pain, or mastalgia, typically falls into several distinct categories, each with its unique characteristics:

Cyclical Breast Pain 

Cyclic breast pain is associated with the menstrual cycle and typically occurs in the premenstrual phase. Hormonal fluctuations, specifically changes in estrogen and progesterone levels, contribute to this type of breast pain. It often involves both breasts and is characterized by a dull, heavy, or aching sensation.

Non-Cyclical Breast Pain 

Non-cyclic breast pain is not related to the menstrual cycle and can occur at any time. This type of pain is often more localised, affecting a specific area in one breast. It may be linked to injury, muscle strain, or inflammation. Non-cyclic breast pain is less predictable than cyclic pain and may require a medical evaluation to determine the underlying cause.

Extramammary Breast Pain

Extramammary breast pain refers to discomfort originating from structures outside the breast tissue, although the sensation is felt in the breast area. Unlike cyclic and non-cyclic breast pain, which are primarily associated with breast tissue and hormonal changes, extramammary breast pain stems from sources such as muscles, nerves, joints, or the chest wall.

Causes of Breast Pain 

Breast pain has many potential causes, and it can be challenging to determine the root cause without medical help. However, it helps to be aware of some common causes of breast pain, which include the following.

Menstrual Cycle

One potential cause of breast pain is the menstrual cycle. Breast tissue is sensitive to changes in hormone levels, and pain may occur just before or during one’s period. If the breast pain corresponds with the menstrual cycle, it is likely nothing to worry about.

Pregnancy

This is another common cause of breast pain. As the breasts prepare to produce milk for the baby, they may become engorged and uncomfortable. This usually subsides after one has given birth and begun breastfeeding.

Other Causes

If one is not pregnant or menstruating, there are other potential causes of breast pain that they should be aware of. These include:

  • Cysts: Non-cancerous growths can develop in the breasts and cause pain or discomfort. Cysts generally go away independently, but if they are large or persistent, they may need to be surgically removed.
  • Fibrocystic breasts: A condition characterised by lumpiness and discomfort in the breasts due to fibrous tissue and cysts. This is not a cancerous condition, but it can be painful or uncomfortable.
  • Mastitis: An infection of the breast tissue that can occur during breastfeeding. Symptoms include redness, warmth, swelling, and pain.

    Risk Factors of Breast Pain

Breast pain is most commonly experienced by individuals who have not yet completed menopause, but it can also occur post-menopause. Men with gynecomastia and transgender individuals undergoing gender transition may also experience breast pain.

Several factors can heighten the likelihood of developing breast pain:

  • Breast size: Individuals with larger breasts may face noncyclic pain due to the size of their breasts. Neck, shoulder, and back discomfort can often accompany the breast pain.
  • Breast surgery: Pain related to breast surgery and the formation of scars can persist even after the surgical incisions have healed.
  • Fatty acid imbalance: A disparity in fatty acids within cells can make breast tissue more sensitive to hormones.
  • Medication use: Some hormonal medications, including specific treatments for infertility and oral contraceptives, can lead to breast pain. Hormone therapies involving oestrogen and progesterone, used post-menopause, may also cause breast tenderness. Additionally, certain antidepressants, particularly SSRIs, medications for hypertension and some antibiotics, have been linked to breast pain.
  • Caffeine consumption: There is an ongoing debate, but some individuals report a decrease in breast pain upon reducing or eliminating caffeine intake, although further research is needed to confirm this.

When to Consult a Doctor

It is essential to determine whether breast pain is something to worry about. If lumps, redness, or discharge accompany the pain, it's important to see a doctor immediately. Other warning signs include persistent pain that lasts for a week without relief, and pain that occurs only in one breast.

When unsure whether the breast pain is cause for concern, it is best to be cautious and make an appointment with a doctor. They will be able to help figure out what is going on and provide the appropriate treatment.

Breast Pain Treatment 

For many individuals, breast pain naturally diminishes over time, often not requiring any specific treatment.

However, if there is a need for pain management or treatment, doctors may suggest the following approaches:

  • Addressing the root cause or aggravating factors: This could involve something as straightforward as opting for a bra that provides better support.
  • Applying topical NSAIDs: In cases of intense pain, using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in cream form directly on the affected area can be beneficial.
  • Modifying birth control regimen: For those on birth control pills, altering the pill schedule by skipping the pill-free interval or changing the contraceptive method might alleviate symptoms of breast pain. However, this should only be done with medical guidance.
  • Adjusting menopausal hormone therapy dosage: Considering a reduction in the dose of hormone therapy during menopause or discontinuing it altogether might be effective.

Breast Pain Prevention 

To potentially reduce the risk of breast pain, several measures can be taken, although their effectiveness is still under research:

  • Minimise hormone therapy: If possible, try to avoid hormone treatments as they might contribute to breast pain.
  • Be cautious with certain medications: Steer clear of drugs known to trigger or exacerbate breast pain.
  • Opt for suitable bras: Ensure you wear bras that fit correctly. A sports bra is recommended during physical activities to provide adequate support.
  • Practice relaxation techniques: Engaging in relaxation therapies can help manage the anxiety often linked with severe breast pain.
  • Avoid intense lifting: Try to steer clear of activities that involve excessive or prolonged lifting.
  • Adopt a healthy diet: Embrace a diet low in fat and rich in complex carbohydrates.
  • Consider pain relievers: Over-the-counter pain medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, and others) can be helpful. However, consult with a healthcare provider regarding the appropriate dosage, as long-term usage can lead to liver issues and other side effects.

Conclusion

In confronting the challenges of breast pain, it is crucial to approach the issue with a comprehensive understanding, considering factors such as the specific nature of the pain, potential non-invasive treatments, advancements in medical care, and personal health considerations. For such a delicate health concern, seeking assistance from a trusted healthcare provider is essential. Max Healthcare emerges as a leading institution in this regard, known for its exceptional expertise in women's health and compassionate patient care. We encourage you to consult with Max Healthcare's experienced team for a personalised evaluation, where you can explore the most effective and suitable treatment options available.