As women age beyond puberty, we can get accustomed to the occasional ache or pain. Whether it’s menstrual cramps, lower back pain, or a headache now and again, it’s easy for us to dismiss physical discomfort. But knowing the cause of some of those aches and pains helps us determine whether or not they’re worth dismissing or if it’s time for a doctor’s visit.
Today, we’ll explore some of the common causes of that pesky discomfort you may feel in your breasts from time to time.
Remember that no matter how infrequent or mild your pain is, it’s always worth bringing up in your next OBGYN visit or well woman exam. Your doctor will be able to assess your health and risk factors and give you valuable information on breast health and care.
Cyclical Vs. Non-Cyclical Pain
To start, there are two main causes of breast pain: cyclic pain is discomfort related to the menstrual cycle, and noncyclic pain occurs regardless of menstrual cycle stage.
Cyclical pain generally affects both breasts equally, varies with menstrual cycle hormones, and may occur alongside tenderness, swelling, or lumpiness.
Non-cyclical pain tends to affect one or more localized areas of one breast, is common after menopause, and the discomfort often feels sharp and burning.
Not sure which category your pain falls into? We recommend keeping a symptom diary to determine whether pain is cyclic. Does your pain accompany your menstrual cycle? How often does it occur? What is the quality of the pain? Once you have this information, you can share it with your doctor at your next appointment.
Cysts and Fibroids
With age, breast tissue is slowly replaced by fat in a process known as involution. As this change occurs, cysts and fibrous tissue can develop, and while this tissue is not usually a cause for concern, they can cause your breasts to feel lumpy and tender. As involution continues, you may experience pain in the upper and outer areas of your breast and the lumps may expand temporarily during your period.
There’s nothing like an ill-fitting bra to ruin your day. While a bad bra fit can cause back and shoulder pain, it’s also a common cause of breast pain if they are too tight or they contain an underwire that digs into the skin or breast tissue. Supportive, non-wired bras are a good solution to this kind of pain, especially if you exercise often and wear tight bras often. According to a What's Causing My Breast Pain?, 60–70% of women report less breast pain when they wear a sports bra during exercise!
Scar tissue may develop from radiation therapy for breast cancer or surgery. This kind of tissue can cause numbness or pain, an increase in firmness or a rounder appearance of the breast, and formation of a lump if the scar forms around a surgical stitch. There are several treatments for this kind of pain issue including removal of the scar tissue or physical therapy.
Unfortunately, some very good medications can come with some not-so-good side effects ;like breast/chest pain. If you’re on hormone therapy, antidepressants, antibiotics, and medications for heart disease, check to see if they can contribute to breast pain. If the discomfort is hard to manage, talk to the prescribing doctor to see if an alternative medicine exists!
If you’re a new mom, you’re especially accustomed to an achy body! Breast pain is very common for new moms for a number of reasons.
When there’s a change in your breastfeeding schedule or your breasts produce too much milk, your breasts can become overfull or engorged. Engorgement leads to the skin of your breasts feeling tight and painful and your breasts appearing larger than usual. This is typically painful but temporary and can be alleviated if you pump or manually express your milk.
Active breastfeeding often hurts but it doesn’t have to and one of the causes of discomfort is when your baby doesn’t latch properly. Improper latching may cause cracking nipples and nipple soreness and your baby may appear frustrated while eating. If you and your kiddo are having trouble with latching, we recommend heading to your doctor, OBGYN office, or local clinic to talk to a lactation consultant for help!
Mastitis is an infection of your milk ducts which can cause severe pain as well as cracked, itching, burning, or blistering on the nipples. You may also experience red streaks on the breasts, fever, and chills but this infection is easily treatable with antibiotics from your doctor.
Some lifestyle habits, health problems, and environmental changes can also contribute to breast pain, including:
1. High caffeine intake
2. Acid reflux
3. Anxiety, stress, and depression
4. Sickle cell anemia
5. High alcohol intake
6. High-fat diet
7. High salt intake
9. Taking over-the-counter pain relievers
If you’re concerned that any of the above factors are contributing to your breast pain, be sure to talk to your doctor before making lifestyle changes or changing any of your medications.
Each month, hormonal changes occur around a woman’s menstrual cycle with estrogen and progesterone rising and falling. The fluctuation of these two hormones can lead to a woman’s breasts feeling lumpy, swollen, and painful. If breast pain is due to hormone fluctuations, pain may worsen two to three days before your period or last your entire menstrual cycle.
So, When Should I See My Doctor?
Breast pain is common but in some scenarios, seeing a doctor is helpful if not necessary. If your breast pain keeps you from daily activities, lasts more than two weeks, or is concentrated in one specific area of your breast, it’s time to see your doctor. You should also see your doctor if your pain is accompanied by a new lump that appears to be getting thicker, one or both breasts change in size or shape, there is a discharge from either nipple, there is a rash around the nipple, or dimpling on the skin of the breasts.
If your breast pain is sudden and accompanied by chest pain, tingling, and numbness in your extremities, see a doctor immediately since these symptoms can indicate a heart attack.
At The Source, we offer well woman exams and OBGYN so if you’re experiencing breast pain you’d like to get checked out, come see us for a visit! Click the button below to book a free appointment today!