What are the most common causes of breast pain?
There are 2 common causes of breast pain. The first is referred pain. This is when pain in the muscles or chest wall is felt as pain within the breast. This can be due to a muscle injury or inflammation. The second main cause is pain in the tissue of the breast itself. This is often due to areas of breast tissue that are responsive to the female hormones. These areas can become painful due to localized swelling or inflammation.
Is it normal for only one breast to hurt?
Often people with breast pain may have pain in both breasts but equally it may only affect 1 breast. The fact that pain is only affecting 1 breast is not a particularly worrying sign itself. If this persists for over 3 months then it may be worthwhile seeing a doctor. If you live in Scotland you can refer yourself to see Mr Cartlidge or Ms Khan, consultant breast surgeons.
When should I see a doctor about breast pain?
In general, I would recommend that you try some simple things such as simple painkillers first. It is reasonable to seek advice from a doctor if pain persists for over 3 months or if it is severely interfering with your life. If you notice a lump or thickening of the breast then you should also seek medical advice.
How does a doctor determine the cause of breast pain? What tests are done?
The doctor will take a history and ask you if there are any particular factors that exacerbate the pain. They will check whether it varies with your menstrual cycle. They will also ask about previous breast problems or a family history of breast cancer. The doctor will examine you to check if there are any lumps within the breast. If the doctor is happy that there is nothing concerning at this stage then they may discharge you. Otherwise, they might arrange for a mammogram (breast X-ray) or ultrasound scan of the breast to examine any concerning areas. The hospital doctors may need to biopsy any lumps to check that they are not cancer.
Are there any lifestyle changes, foods/vitamins which help to ease recurrent breast pain?
I recommend a healthy lifestyle and diet and a supportive, non-underwired bra. You should have your bra fitted if you haven’t done so within the past 12 months. Some women who are have cycle-related pain find it useful to take evening primrose oil or starflower oil supplements. Breast pain often occurs during ovulation (mid cycle) and these are useful remedies to treat that type of discomfort.
How can I manage my symptoms of at home?
You can use simple painkillers such as paracetamol. You may find it useful to use ibuprofen gel and apply it to the area of the breast that hurts. Wear a supportive (non-underwired) sports-type bra including overnight if this is when the pain bothers you the most.