Breast pain, also known as mastalgia, it affects most women at some point in life. It can manifest itself in different forms, from a sense of heaviness, to intense pain, to a burning sensation in all parts of the breasts and surrounding areas. Many times, pain is thought to be a sign of a serious problem such as breast cancer, but by itself it is rarely a sign of its presence.

Causes of breast pain include:

  • hormonal changes related to the menstrual cycle
  • state of pregnancy
  • breast lumps
  • mastitis
  • breast abscess
  • breast injuries
  • problems due to breastfeeding
  • drawbacks related to dressings
  • breast cancer (although pain is not common)

Pain due to hormonal changes related to the menstrual cycle

Changes in hormone levels can cause breast pain in cases where:

  • your period is still active (you are not yet in menopause) or are on hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
  • the pain is felt at the same time every month, usually one to three days before menstruation and subsides at its end
  • the pain has spread to both breasts (although sometimes the pain is only felt on one side)

To alleviate the pain it is advisable to wear a specific sports bra, even at night and during physical activity, take over-the-counter pain relievers such as, for example, those based on paracetamol or ibuprofen or apply gel based on ibuprofen or diclofenac If you are unable to relieve pain, it is advisable to consult your family doctor who may prescribe drugs to control hormone levels such as danazol, tamoxifen or goserelin.

State of pregnancy

Breast soreness and tenderness are sometimes early signs of pregnancy when associated with:

  • interruption of the menstrual cycle
  • feeling nauseous and tired
  • need to urinate more frequently
  • alterations in taste and smell and craving for specific foods

In the presence of these disorders (symptoms), a pregnancy test can be done independently, at home.

Breast lumps

There are various types of breast lumps, some of which are painful:

  • fibroadenoma, a hard, smooth lump that can change position in the breast and is generally more common among young women
  • cyst, formation containing a fluid substance that develops in breast tissue, more common in women over the age of 35
  • mastitis and breast abscesses

Most breast lumps are of no concern, but you should see your family doctor to make sure they are not a sign of a serious illness such as cancer. Therapy depends on the type of lump; in some cases no treatment is needed.


It occurs when the breast tissue (breast tissue) becomes inflamed due to a bacterial infection, or for causes related to breastfeeding, becoming red, swollen and causing pain. Mastitis can also cause:

  • redness and swelling of the breast tissue that overheats
  • breast sensitivity
  • formation of a lump or solid area in the breast tissue
  • discharge from the nipples
  • flu-like disorders, such as soreness, fever and chills

If mastitis is suspected, it is advisable to contact your family doctor because if you do not intervene with a treatment, such as antibiotics, you could develop an abscess.

Breast tissue abscess

The abscess causes the formation of pus, generally due to a bacterial infection. It is painful and the inflamed nodules can redden and heat up to generate inflammation in the surrounding area and cause fever. In these cases, it is advisable to consult the family doctor to assess whether antibiotic treatment and, possibly, aspiration of the pus are necessary.

Breast damage

Breast pain can result from damage (injury) to the muscles, joints or joints in the chest area, or it can be transmitted by nerves in the chest area, giving the sensation that pain is developing from the breast. damage that causes breast pain include:

  • stretching of a thoracic muscle
  • neck injury, shoulder or back
  • costochondritis, inflammation in the area of ​​the junction of the ribs (ribs) to the bones of the rib cage
  • surgery previous (previous) breast

Breast pain can be caused by an injury if it is concentrated in one place and if it gets worse with movement. To relieve it, it may be helpful to wear a sports bra and take pain relieving medications, if advised by your doctor; Sometimes, if pain persists, injections of corticosteroid drugs and local anesthetics may be needed.

Problems due to breastfeeding

Pain during breastfeeding can depend on:

  • breast engorgement, namely an obstruction of the milk ducts
  • mastitis, pain and swelling caused by obstruction of the milk ducts due to a bacterial infection
  • breast abscess, painful pus formation that occurs in untreated mastitis
  • yeast infection in the nipples, in case of small injuries to the nipples

If the pain occurs in conjunction with breastfeeding, it is advisable to contact the staff of the obstetrics wards to find out how to alleviate it.

Drawbacks related to dressings

Sometimes breast pain can be a side effect of some medicines:

  • contraceptives, most hormone-based ones such as birth control pills, patches, injections and intrauterine devices, can cause breast tension
  • antidepressants, such as sertraline
  • antipsychotics (used to treat some mental illnesses) such as haloperidol

It is a good rule to make sure, by reading the package leaflet of the drug you are taking, if pain or tension in the breast are among the undesirable effects (side effects). You should contact your family doctor if the pain becomes particularly intense as it may be necessary to change medication.

Breast cancer

The pain itself is rarely attributable to the presence of breast cancer which, more likely, manifests itself with disorders (symptoms) such as:

  • presence of a solid lump which remains localized in an area of ​​the breast
  • change in size or shape of one or both breasts
  • presence of discharge from the nipple with streaks of blood
  • sinus depression
  • redness of the nipple or the surrounding area
  • nipple indented

If you suspect that you have breast cancer, you should immediately contact your family doctor to carry out the necessary tests.

When to contact your family doctor

It is good to consult your doctor if:

  • the pain is particularly intense, so much so as to prevent them from carrying out normal activities
  • the pain gets worse or does not stop
  • you feel the symptoms of an infection, such as swelling, redness and overheating of the breasts or fever
  • symptoms related to the presence of a tumor occur

The family doctor, examining the breast and inquiring about the present disorders, will try to trace the cause of the pain or will prescribe an X-ray or ultrasound at a specialized center. Having to perform such further tests could cause a certain alarm but these are normal checks that are not only used to ascertain breast cancer. In fact, most of the women who undergo these tests are not affected by cancer.

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