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Mastalgia or mastodynia (breast pain) is a common female complaint - up to 70% experience it at some point in their life. It can include breast tenderness, a sharp or burning pain, or a feeling of tightness in the breast tissue. Pain may range from mild to severe and can occur occasionally or be a constant type of discomfort. One or both breasts may be involved as well as and the underarm (axilla). Approximately 15% of women with breast pain require treatment. Although breast pain is usually not associated with breast cancer, any breast abnormality, including breast pain, must be evaluated by a physician.

Causes of Breast Pain

The most common cause (75%) of breast pain or discomfort is the hormonal changes associated with the menstrual period (cyclic breast pain). Mild breast pain may occur just before your monthly period, and it can last a few days. Some women, however, may experience more severe pain. The exact cause of cyclic breast pain is not known, but it is related to how your breast tissue responds to cyclical changes in the hormone (estrogen and progesterone) levels. Cyclical breast pain may also be accompanied by lumps or cysts (fibrocystic change). The breast tissue may swell because of hormonal stimulation, which causes the milk glands and ducts to enlarge and to retain water. These changes usually subside when menstruation is over. Women may experience this type of breast discomfort for several years but it usually disappears after menopause.

Non-cyclical breast pain or discomfort may be caused by many factors:

  • Stress-related changes in hormone levels
  • Trauma
  • Use of improperly fitted bras that do not fit properly
  • Weight gain
  • Physical activity that involves prolonged use of the arms or heavy lifting, which may cause pain in the chest (pectoral) muscles
  • Benign (noncancerous) breast conditions not related to the menstrual cycle
  • Costochondritis, which is a type of arthritic pain that involves the area where ribs and breastbone connect. Although this does not occur in the breast, however, the pain may feel like it is coming from the breast. It is usually described as a burning sensation in the breast and it may occur as a result of aging or poor posture.
  • Use of certain medications, such as oral contraceptive pills and hormone replacement therapy
  • Breast cancer is often painless, but one should not disregard any tumor of the breast cancer, since in some patients, stabbing pains in the breast are associated with inflammatory breast cancer.

Remedies for Breast Pain

Here are some remedies for breast pain:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or Aspirin (Bayer, Anacin)
  • Prescription drugs used for severe cyclic breast pain, such as tamoxifen citrate and danazol are not commonly used because of their potential side effects.
  • Birth control pills or oral contraceptives, which help reduce cyclic breast discomfort and swelling before periods.
  • Magnesium supplements taken two weeks before your period may help relieve cyclic breast pain and other premenstrual symptoms.
  • Eat a low-fat diet.
  • Reduce caffeine intake.
  • Wearing a properly fitting sports bra during exercise.
  • Young women with developing breasts are advised to buy new bras every six months.

Call your doctor if your breast pain lasts longer than three weeks, if it becomes severe or if there are other symptoms such as unusual lumps or nipple discharge. Talk to your doctor about taking medicines if you are pregnant.

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