Alternatively known as mastalgia, mastodynia or mammalgia, breast pain has many names and descriptors (breast tenderness, stabbing breast pain, breast soreness, just to name a few). No matter what you call it, breast pain hurts, but in most cases, you can alleviate it with home care or a doctor’s care.
What Causes Mastalgia?
If you’re a female, breast pain kind of comes with the territory. Many circumstances can cause your breasts to hurt, including hormonal fluctuations due to:
- Puberty. Developing breast tissue can ache during puberty. This is true for boys as well as girls.
- Periods. Fluctuating estrogen and progesterone levels during the menstrual cycle have side effects of making the breast tissue swell and hurt. This type of mastalgia is known as cyclical breast pain or cyclic mastodynia. Some women develop it with the use of oral contraceptives. If you have regular periods, you may be able to predict the onset of breast pain and begin treating it before it starts as it typically begins the week prior to getting your period and subsides once you start your period.
- Pregnancy. Water retention and increased blood flow during early pregnancy cause breast tenderness while breast growth can cause itching and sensitivity as well as pain.
- Breastfeeding. In the first five days after giving birth, it’s common to have very full breasts due to increasing milk supply. This condition known as engorgement can be painful. Breastfeeding can lead to developing a clogged milk duct or a mammary gland infection, both of which can cause pain.
- Menopause. Waning hormone production can lead to breast pain in perimenopause. Hormone therapy in post-menopausal women can also contribute to mastalgia.
It may be surprising and comforting to know that breast pain is not typically a symptom of breast cancer.
Does Diet Affect Breast Pain?
In the past, it was believed that a few dietary changes might improve breast pain. For instance, caffeine was thought to be a factor. Also, a low-fat diet filled with complex carbohydrates was believed to help diminish mastalgia by decreasing estrogen levels. The National Library of Medicine states, however, that no evidence exists to back up these claims.
What Can Help Breast Pain?
An estimated two-thirds of women experience breast pain at some point. If you’re one of them, there are several measures you can take at home to help eliminate breast pain, including:
- Taking an over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen or applying an NSAID cream directly to the painful spot
- Alternating heat and ice over the sore breast area
- Wearing a supportive bra (think sports bra) that’s properly fitted
When Should I Seek Help for Breast Pain?
When home remedies don’t alleviate breast pain, your doctor may order an ultrasound or mammogram to help diagnose the cause. See your doctor for evaluation when:
- Breast pain is unexplained and persistent
- Breast pain recurs in the same spot on the breast
- Your breast is red, and you have a fever
- You have a persistent breast lump
- You experience nipple discharge
- You gave birth recently and your breasts are swollen or hard
Talk with a Professional
If you are experiencing breast pain symptoms that are not improving with time, request an appointment with a healthcare provider at St. Elizabeth Physicians in Northern Kentucky and Southeastern Indiana.