Types and causes of breast pain

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Cyclical breast pain

  • Is related to changing hormone levels during the menstrual cycle or when taking HRT.
  • Is described as full, heavy or aching.
  • Can often occur with breast swelling or lumpiness.
  • Usually affects both your breasts, particularly the upper, outer areas, and can spread to your underarm.
  • Is most painful during the 1-2 weeks before your period, but eases afterwards.
  • Usually affects younger women, (less than 50 years) and women coming into the menopause (peri-menopausal women).

Non-cyclical breast pain

  • Is not related to the menstrual cycle or HRT.
  • Is described as tight, burning or sore.
  • Is constant, or comes and goes.
  • Usually affects one breast in one area, but may spread across your breast.
  • Can affect anyone.

What causes non-cyclical breast pain?

  • Size of your breast. Breast pain can be due to the size and weight of your breasts, if they’re large. You can often get neck, shoulder and back pain with this type of breast discomfort.
  • An injury to your breast.
  • Previous breast surgery.
  • Medications: Infertility treatments, oral contraceptives (the Pill), hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and some anti-depressants can all cause breast pain. 
  • An infection in your breast (mastitis) when breastfeeding.
  • Fibrocystic breast disease.
  • Liver disease due to alcoholism.
  • Stress.
  • Benign (non-cancerous) breast conditions of your breast. 
  • Breast cancer.

Chest wall pain

  • Comes from outside your breast – from the chest wall, muscles, joints or heart. For example, the pain could be from pulling a muscle in your chest. 
  • Can be caused by a condition called costochondritis, which makes your chest wall inflamed and sore. 

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