Breast pain is the symptom of discomfort in the breast. Pain that involves both breasts and which occurs repeatedly before the menstrual period is generally not serious. Pain that involves only one part of a breast is more concerning. It is particular concerning if a hard mass or nipple discharge is also present.
|Other names||Mastodynia, mastalgia, breast tenderness|
|Causes||Menstrual cycle related, birth control pills, hormone therapy, psychiatric medication, breast cancer|
|Diagnostic method||Examination, medical imaging|
|Differential diagnosis||Gallstones, thoracic outlet syndrome, costochondritis|
|Treatment||Reassurance after ruling out cancer, medications|
|Prognosis||>75% resolve without treatment|
|Frequency||70% of women|
Causes may be related to the menstrual cycle, birth control pills, hormone therapy, or psychiatric medication. Pain may also occur in those with large breasts, during menopause, and in early pregnancy. In about 2% of cases breast pain is related to breast cancer. Diagnosis involves examination, with medical imaging if only a specific part of the breast hurts.
In more than 75% of people the pain resolves without any specific treatment. Otherwise treatments may include paracetamol or NSAIDs. A well fitting bra may also help. In those with severe pain tamoxifen or danazol may be used. About 70% of women have breast pain at some point in time. Breast pain is one of the most common breast symptom, along with breast masses and nipple discharge.
Cyclical breast pain is often associated with fibrocystic breast changes or duct ectasia and thought to be caused by changes of prolactin response to thyrotropin. Some degree of cyclical breast tenderness is normal in the menstrual cycle, and is usually associated with menstruation and/or premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
Noncyclical breast pain has various causes and is harder to diagnose. Noncyclical pain has frequently its root cause outside the breast. Some degree of non-cyclical breast tenderness can normally be present due to hormonal changes in puberty (both in girls and boys), in menopause and during pregnancy. After pregnancy, breast pain can be caused by breastfeeding. Other causes of non-cyclical breast pain include alcoholism with liver damage (likely due to abnormal steroid metabolism), mastitis and medications such as digitalis, methyldopa (an antihypertensive), spironolactone, certain diuretics, oxymetholone (an anabolic steroid), and chlorpromazine (a typical antipsychotic). Also, shingles can cause a painful blistering rash on the skin of the breasts.
Some women who have pain in one or both breasts may fear breast cancer. However, breast pain is not a common symptom of cancer. The great majority of breast cancer cases do not present with symptoms of pain, though breast pain in older women is more likely to be associated with cancer.
Diagnosis involves breast examination, with medical imaging if only a specific part of the breast hurts. Medical imaging by ultrasound is recommended for all ages, well in those over 30 it is recommended together with mammography.
Ruling out the other possible causes of the pain is one way to differentiate the source of the pain. Breast pain can be due to:
- angina pectoris
- anxiety and depression
- blocked milk duct
- chest wall muscle pain
- consensual, rough sex
- costal chondritis (sore ribs)
- cutaneous candida infection
- duct ectasia (often with nipple discharge)
- fibrocystic breast changes
- gastroesophageal reflux disease
- herpes infection
- hormone replacement therapy
- mastitis or breast infection
- menstruation and Premenstrual syndrome
- physical abuse
- pituitary tumor (often with nipple discharge)
- puberty in both girls and boys
- sexual abuse
- sore nipples and cracked nipples
- surgery or biopsy
- trauma (including falls)
Medications can be associated with breast pain and include:
Diagnostic testing can be useful. Typical tests used are mammogram, excisional biopsy for solid lumps, fine-needle aspiration and biopsy, pregnancy test, ultrasonography, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
In more than 75% of people the pain resolves without any specific treatment. Otherwise treatments may include paracetamol or NSAIDs. A well fitting bra may also help. In those with severe pain tamoxifen or danazol may be used.
Spironolactone, low dose oral contraceptives, and low-dose estrogen have helped to relieve pain. Topical anti-inflammatory medications can be used for localized pain. Vitamin E is not effective in relieving pain nor is evening primrose oil. Vitamin B6 and vitamin A have not been consistently found to be beneficial. Flaxseed has shown some activity in the treatment of cyclic mastalgia.
Pain may be relieved by the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or, for more severe localized pain, by local anaesthetic. Pain may be relieved by reassurance that it does not signal a serious underlying problem, and an active life style can also effect an improvement.
Information regarding how the pain is real but not necessarily caused by disease can help to understand the problem. Learning breast self-examination helps to orient the woman to normal and expected texture and structure of the breast and nipple. Yearly breast exams may be suggested. Counseling can also be to describe changes that vary during the monthly cycle. Women on hormone replacement therapy may benefit from a dose adjustment. Another non-pharmacological measure to help relieve symptoms of pain may be to use good bra support. Breasts change during adolescence and menopause and refitting may be beneficial. Applying heat and/or ice can bring relief. Dietary changes may also help with the pain. Methylxanthines can be eliminated from the diet to see if a sensitivity is present. Some clinicians recommending a reduction in salt, though no evidence supports this practice.
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