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Common causes of breast pain

Breast pain, also known as mastalgia, is common in women of all ages and stages of life, from puberty to childbearing years to menopause. Breast pain can feel like a sharp twinge, a dull ache, a burning sensation, tenderness or tightness.

“Having some breast pain is normal,” says Stephanie Tarracciano, D.O., an obstetrician and gynecologist at Piedmont. “The biggest cause of breast pain is cyclical changes related to a woman’s monthly cycle. It is common for women to have breast engorgement and discomfort before their period starts.”

Other common causes of breast pain include:

Is breast pain a sign of breast cancer?

“Very rarely is breast pain a sign of breast cancer,” says Dr. Tarracciano. “Breasts are normally lumpy and bumpy. You don’t need to get panicked just because you have breast pain or your breast has a lump or bump. Most are completely benign. However, if you’ve noticed changes in your breasts, that’s when it’s time to see a doctor.”

Lifestyle changes to relieve breast pain

“I recommend cutting out caffeine because it can be a systemic irritant that causes inflammation, trying over-the-counter pain relievers and ensuring you are wearing a supportive bra,” she says. “Most women are not wearing the correct bra size.”

If these lifestyle changes don’t relieve breast pain, see your doctor.

Treatment for breast pain

Depending on the cause of breast pain, your doctor may recommend:

When to see a doctor for breast pain

It is important to see your doctor for breast pain if you have:

  • Symptoms that last for more than a few days

  • Unusual discharge from your nipple or other signs of infection

  • A new lump with an onset of pain

“It can be normal to have a few drops of clear or milky discharge from breasts, especially if you’ve ever had a baby, but if you’re having copious amounts of discharge, discharge when you’re not stimulating your breasts or discharge that is bloody, green or has a foul smell, you need to see a doctor immediately,” says Dr. Tarraciano.

She adds, “If you’ve noticed your breast pain isn’t cyclical – meaning it doesn’t occur around your period – and you’ve tried lifestyle modifications that haven’t made a difference, it’s time to see your doctor. If we see breast changes, such as skin changes, redness, itching or new masses, we may recommend an imaging test, such as an ultrasound, mammogram or both.” 

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