Health A to Z

Breast pain

Surprising causes and treatment for breast pain.

Breast pain causes symptoms prevention treatment

Breast pain or mastalgia may affect up to 70 percent of women during their lifetime, according to the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC). Cyclical breast pain, which affects 40 percent of women before menopause, is worse closer to your period. Non-cyclical pain, which is less common, may be there all the time or come and go without a pattern. It is very rare for breast pain to be caused by breast cancer if there is no lump.

Breast pain causes It’s not known but it may be due to hormonal changes, breast cysts or inflammation of the breast bone and ribs. The birth control pill may cause breast pain, increase it or decrease it. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can also bring on breast pain.

Breast pain symptoms It’s normal to have two to three days of breast pain before your menstrual period but for some women, pain can last more than five days. Breast pain can occur in one or both breasts or only part of a breast or may extend into the arm or armpit.

Breast pain diagnosis/tests The SOGC recommends having a complete breast examination to rule out cancer which may make it easier to cope with breast pain.

Breast pain treatment The options include:

• Medications, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, and prescriptions medications, can be used to treat mastalgia however the latter carry side effects. If your breast pain started after starting the birth control pill, changing to a lower dose or different brand could help. Talk to your doctor if you suspect your breast pain is linked to HRT.

• Diet changes Some women find that drinking less coffee or cutting out caffeine reduces breast pain, however studies have not proven that caffeine causes breast pain. According to the SOGC, one study found that reducing fat in the diet decreased cyclical breast pain in some women however, more research is needed.

Your bra Breast pain can be due to wearing the wrong size and type of bra. Get a fitting at a store and wear a bra with the proper fit and support.

Breast pain prevention It may be possible to prevent breast pain by wearing the correct size of bra and wearing a sports bra during exercise. Reducing the amount of fat in your diet and taking the birth control pill may also help ward off breast pain.

More info from Chatelaine
Bra size calculator

Outside resources
Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada