Here’s what your breast pain may be revealing


Here’s what your breast pain may be revealing

Tender or painful breasts are a common complaint affecting up to 70% of all women at some point during their lives.  From a breast that is sensitive to pressure or breast pain experienced at certain times of the month, the pain can get in the way of everyday life from workouts to intimacy. 

Mastalgia is the formal name for breast pain. The location of breast pain can vary and the pain associated with it can range from very mild to severe.  Descriptions of breast pain are often reported as a feeling of tenderness, burning, sharpness, or a tightening of the breast tissue.

Postmenopausal women sometimes have breast pain, but breast pain is more common in younger women who haven't completed menopause.

Most times, breast pain signals a noncancerous (benign) breast condition and rarely indicates breast cancer. Still, unexplained breast pain that doesn't go away after one or two menstrual cycles or that persists after menopause needs to be evaluated by your doctor.

What brings on most breast pain is usually due to the various changes a woman’s body goes through during her lifetime – menstruation, pregnancy, lactation, and menopause - usually most of the pains associated with these life events do not require medical treatment.  However, there can be situations when a woman should seek out intervention from her doctor depending the severity, location, and duration of the breast pain.

Here are some common causes of why a woman may experience breast pain:

·      Fibrocystic breast changes – Fibrocystic breast condition is lumpiness in one or both breasts which can include breast tenderness and pain.  This is a very common but benign condition amongst women and is mainly due to the variation of hormones associated with the menstrual cycle being a primary contributing factor.  It primarily affects women between the ages of 30 and 50 and tends to resolve after menopause.  The main concern is that it can mimic breast cancer but women can discuss this with their doctor to educate themselves to learn the difference between the two.

·      Breast cysts – A cyst in the breast may feel like a lump but when examined it is a small, generally harmless sac filled with fluid.  The cyst may or may not cause pain.  They typically enlarge during the menstrual cycle and go away once menopause is reached.  However, anytime a woman discovers a lump, she should immediately contact her doctor to determine whether the lump is a cyst or tumor. 

·      Mastitis – This is a condition causing breast tissue to become inflamed and painful and is most common in women who are breastfeeding, usually within the first three months after giving birth.  Usually only one breast is affected by mastitis with symptoms of a red, swollen area on the breast that may feel hot and painful to touch.  A woman may also have flu-like symptoms such as aches, a high temperature, chills, and tiredness.  Contact your doctor right away as it can be easily treated and most women will make a full recovery very quickly.

·      Costochondritis – This painful condition is caused by inflammation of the cartilage of the ribs where the rib connects with the breastbone (sternum). Costochondritis is a type of arthritis and when it is inflamed, it does not cause pain within the breast itself, but to women the burning pain can be confused with actual breast pain. 

·      Breast surgery – Women who go through breast surgery may have scar tissue from that can lead to breast pain.

·      A poorly fitted bra – If a woman is wearing a bra that is too loose or too tight, this leaves the breast improperly supported which can lead to breast pain.  The majority of women are not wearing the right bra size – having a properly fitted bra is important to prevent unnecessary pressure on the shoulders that can lead to neck pain and headaches, skin irritation and even breathing issues.

·      Breast cancer Most cancers of the breast do not cause pain but some tumors can lead to discomfort.  A woman should always contact her doctor if she has any of the following symptoms:

·      A lump or other area of concern in the breast

·      Pain or a lump that is not resolved following a period

·      Any nipple discharge – bloody, clear, or otherwise

·      Breast pain without a known cause or that does not go away

·      Thickening of the breast tissue

·      A nipple that retracts or turns inward

·      Unexplained redness, swelling, skin irritation, itchiness, or rash on the breast