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What is it breast pain?

Tenderness, discomfort or pain in your breasts can happen for a number of reasons, and it is very common in women of all ages.

The type of breast pain you have could be felt in one or both breasts and can feel like a sharp pain, a dull ache or tenderness. It may be mild or severe.

It can be worrying to experience, but the good news is that in most cases, it can be put down to the start of your period.

There are other reasons that you may be experiencing it, which we’ll discuss in more detail here.

What causes breast pain?

Breast pain is categorised in two ways:

  • Cyclical breast pain

    The hormonal changes throughout your menstrual cycle can cause pain in your breasts and it is a completely normal part of the menstrual cycle.

    Your breasts become more sensitive because of these hormonal changes and the pain will usually calm down once you start your period. In most people, their breast are tender a few days before their period, but in others, it can start weeks before you’re due on.

    Your breasts may feel tender or heavy, and you may be able to feel some lumps and swelling. Again, this should ease once you start your period and lumps should completely disappear.

    Both breasts are usually affected, and some months it may be more painful than others. In some women, this may get worse the older they get, but it really varies from person to person.

    It may also be affected by forms of contraception – for example, if you change pills, you may notice that your breast pain improves or get worse.

    Cyclical breast pain stops once you have been through the menopause.
  • Noncyclical breast pain

    This is pain that is not linked to your periods and is most common in women who are over the age of 40. It can affect women both pre- and post the menopause.

    You may feel stabbing pains, soreness, burning, prickling or tightening in your breasts and the pain may just be felt in one breast, or both. Likewise it may be persistent or you may just feel it once in a while.

    Sometimes there is no reason for this pain, and it will go away on its own, but there are a number of different things that may cause it, which we’ll cover below.

What can breast pain be a symptom of?

The main causes of breast pain are not usually anything to worry about, however, sometimes the pain could be a symptom of an underlying problem. This includes:

A strain or injury

If you’ve injured yourself, or sprained a muscle, it can cause pain in your breast area. Even a sprain in your neck or back can radiate through to your breast area.

Mastitis

This is an infection and is most common in breastfeeding women.

Pregnancy

Pregnancy causes your breasts to swell and become sore. In fact, it can be one of the first signs that you are pregnant.

Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding can sometimes be painful early on or if something is going wrong – from your breasts becoming too full of milk , to sore nipples, to mastitis, which is an infection of your milk ducts.

Fibrocystic breast tissue

Lumpy breast tissue, or fibrocystic breast tissue, is lumps in the breast area that are filled with fluid. These are not normally linked with cancer and are a common cause of breast pain. The lumps can be more tender and cause pain just before your period.

Puberty

Going through puberty means that your hormones can be all over the place. Your breasts also start to develop at this point, which can lead to tenderness and pain.

Menopause

Your hormones change a lot during the menopause, which can lead to achy, tender breasts.

Breast cysts

Breast tissue can be replaced by fat as women get older, causing lumps to form. This is known as fibrocystic changes and may in some circumstances cause pain.

Anxiety

Stress, anxiety and panic disorders can make you feel a pain in the chest that may be mistaken for breast pain.

Costochondritis

The joints of the chest wall become inflamed, which can in turn lead to pain in the breast for women.

Angina

This heart condition has been known to cause pain in the left breast and armpit. If you are experiencing unusual pain, you should speak to a doctor.

Birth control pill

These affect your hormone levels, which can lead to tenderness in your breasts.

The size of your breasts

If you have large breasts, it can lead to pain and discomfort in your shoulders and neck. Make sure you wear a bra that has lots of support, and that it is the correct size for you.

Surgery

If you’ve had an operation on your breasts, whilst you recover, you may feel pain in that area.

Shingles

Before a shingles rash appears, you may notice pain in the area affected, which can be mistaken as coming from the breasts.

Antidepressants or other medication

Check the leaflet that comes with the medication, or with a doctor, to see if this could be the reason behind your breast pain.

Breast abscesses

This is a collection of pus somewhere on your breast. Like mastitis, it is more common in women who are breastfeeding.

Breast Cancer

While breast pain is not normally a sign of breast cancer, if the pain is accompanied by other symptoms, particularly a lump, see a doctor to get it checked out, just to be safe. It is advisable to check your breasts regularly so that you can monitor any changes. If you notice a lump or any changes in your breasts or nipples, see a GP.

What should you do if you have breast pain?

If you believe that the breast pain you are feeling is due to an underlying condition rather than to do with your periods and menstrual cycle, it’s a good idea to see a doctor.

If it is caused by your hormones, over the counter painkillers may help. If you participate in sports, you can wear a supportive bra to help reduce the pain when exercising, if this is an issue.

How can Push Doctor help?

At Push Doctor, you can see a GP online, on any device, from home, work or wherever you are on a mobile device. They can listen to your symptoms and suggest your next steps.

You can see a GP about your breast pain at a time that suits you. Our doctors are available from 6am - 11pm, 7 days a week and can offer you the advice, diagnosis and the treatment you may need. They can also refer you to a specialist for further investigation or treatment if necessary.