Mastalgia: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment
- Mastalgia is also referred to as breast pain and most commonly occurs in younger women before or during their menstrual cycle.
- Mastalgia can be cyclic (menstrual cycle-related) or non cyclic (exclusive from the menstrual cycle)
- Stinging pain, tightness in breast, heaviness of breast, sore breasts before period and during period, pain inside of breast due to radiating sternum pain or other external pain are a few symptoms of mastalgia in women.
- Mastalgia causes include changes in breast structure, hormonal factors, breast size, fatty acid imbalance and more. If you think you may be showing signs of mastalgia, reach out to gynaecologists on MFine who will be able to give you a proper diagnosis of your condition.
- Mastalgia is evaluated by a breast screening examination and other imaging tests such as mammograms and ultrasounds. A biopsy may be done only if a lump or an unusual thickening of the breast is suspected, a possible sign of breast cancer.
- Mastalgia treatments involve clinical measures to relieve breast pain such as using NSAIDs, regulating or altering dosage for birth control pills, and reconsidering the use of hormone therapies for postmenopausal women. Some home remedies like hot/cold compresses, relaxation therapies and diet alterations have helped in reducing breast pain in many women. Consult a gynaecologist on MFine for a treatment plan that is best suited to your breast pain symptoms.
CHAPTER 1: Mastalgia Meaning: An Overview
What is Mastalgia?
Mastalgia is commonly referred to as breast pain. Quite a common occurrence in women especially around their menstrual cycle, it can be associated with breast heaviness or tenderness. Women sometimes can also experience a sharp burning pain in both breasts or just one breast or tightness in breast tissues which is also indicative of mastalgia.
The intensity of mastalgia in women can range anywhere from mild to severe pain. The duration of breast pain can be constant or occur occasionally.
- Women can experience breast pain before period for a few days, especially the week leading up to their cycle. It is not alarming to have mild to moderate pain in both breasts as sore breasts before period is usually normal.
- In some cases, mastalgia may start before your period and prolong for a week or more through your cycle. Women may experience moderate to severe pain in both breasts. Sore breasts during period are a common symptom of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) apart from irritability, fatigue and mood swings, and are usually not a cause for concern.
- In other cases, breast pain can last a whole month. However, these bouts are unrelated to menstrual cycles.
Breast pain cases are classified to be cyclic (related to the menstrual cycle) or non-cyclic (unrelated to the menstrual cycle). Both types have their individual characteristics.
Cyclical mastalgia is more common in younger women typically in between their 20s and 30s. Women around the age of 40 who are transitioning into menopause may also experience cyclic breast pain. Non-cyclical mastalgia is likely to occur in women after menopause. The symptoms of cyclical mastalgia and non cyclical mastalgia tend to differ and is discussed more in detail in Chapter 3.
Mostly, breast pains are indicative of a non-cancerous condition and are rarely classified as a sign of breast cancer. Nevertheless, it is vital to consult a gynaecologist if you have breast pain of any intensity that does not subside after a few menstrual cycles or prolonged breast pain after menopause.
CHAPTER 2: Mastalgia Causes
The causes of mastalgia are not always known but some contributing factors to breast pain in women include:
- Reproductive hormones. Reproductive hormones and the menstrual cycle play a key role in women experiencing cyclic breast pain. It often seems to appear before or during periods and even pregnancy and decreases after normal delivery or a c-section delivery or when women reach menopause.
- Changes in breast structure. Changes that occur in the milk ducts of the breast can cause breast engorgement pain. If left undiagnosed, this can lead to the development of breast cysts. Non cyclical breast pain can also occur as a result of previous breast surgeries, breast trauma and other localized factors. Pain in the breast bone, heart, joints or muscles that are outside the actual breast may also radiate to the breast causing mastalgia.
- Size of the breast. Women who have naturally large breasts may experience non cyclical mastalgia or breast heaviness from time to time. Along with this, women may also experience neck pain, back pain or shoulder pain.
- Imbalance of fatty acids. The sensitivity of breast tissues to hormones may be affected by a fatty acid imbalance in the cells of the body causing pain in the breast tissue.
- Previous breast surgeries. Previous breast procedures or surgeries can result in lingering breast pain during the scar formation process.
- Hormonal medications. Specific types of hormonal medications used as a contraceptive measure or for infertility treatments can cause breast pain in women. Mastalgia may also be a side effect of some hormone therapies used by women after menopause. Before taking any medication, it is important to consult a gynaecologist to avoid any breast pain-related complications.
Chapter 3: Mastalgia Symptoms and Diagnosis
The symptoms of mastalgia vary depending on the case. As discussed in chapter 1, mastalgia cases are classified into cyclic and non cyclic. These two classifications tend to have distinct characteristics and symptoms which are listed below.
Cyclical mastalgia is breast pain that relates to the menstrual cycle. Symptoms in this classification include:
- Dull or aching pain
- Pain in both breasts, specifically the upper and outer areas of the breast.
- Pain may radiate to the armpit areas causing pain in side of breast.
- Lumpiness or swollen breasts
- Breast heaviness
Non cyclical mastalgia
Non cyclic mastalgia is one that is completely unrelated to the menstrual cycle. Symptoms in this classification include:
- Sharp burning pain that is constant or occurs intermittently
- Pain in one breast or originating from a localized area of the breast which has the potential to radiate to other parts of the breast
- Tightness in breast
Extramammary breast pain
This term refers to breast pain that originates outside the breast but radiates through the breast. Although it may feel like it starts within the breast, it could be sternum pain, pain in the ribcage, and other areas that are close to the breast that is causing it to hurt.
Breast pain is usually not a cause of concern however, it is advised that you seek medical assistance of a qualified gynaecologist if you experience:
- Breast pain daily for longer than 2 weeks
- Localized breast pain that does not subside
- A lump or other abnormalities on the breast
- Breast pain that is intensifying with every passing day and not improving
- Severe breast pain that causes extreme fatigue or interferes with your daily life
If you are complaining of one or many of the above mastalgia symptoms, a gynaecologist may evaluate your condition by the following tests.
- A comprehensive breast screening examination. This involves a thorough physical check-up of your breasts including the lymph nodes for any abnormalities. Your gynaecologist may also examine your heart and lungs with a stethoscope and briefly check your chest and abdomen to determine if the breast pain is originating from elsewhere or is related to an associated condition. The breast examination will also involve a discussion of your medical history to check if the breast pain is due to any past breast procedures, trauma, surgeries or medication.
- Mammogram. This is an X-ray examination done of the breast if the gynaecologist suspects an unnatural thickening or a lump in a specific part of the breast. Mammograms are useful in detecting early signs of breast cancer in women.
- Ultrasound. Ultrasounds make use of soundwaves to capture images of the breast helping your gynaecologist identify any abnormalities in your breast. This is often to evaluate the cause of localized breast pain when mammogram results appear normal.
- Biopsy. Breast biopsies involve the specialist extracting a sample of breast tissue for further analysis. A biopsy is done usually after unusual breast lumps are identified in imaging exams like mammograms and ultrasounds.
Chapter 4: Mastalgia Treatment and Home Remedies
Many women attest to breast pain resolving over time. In most cases, you may not require any treatment. But in cases where treatment is needed, gynaecologists may recommend,
- Anti-inflammatory medications, especially a topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAID) in the form of a cream to treat severe localized breast pain.
- Changing your contraceptive measures, specifically if you are used to taking birth control pills. Adjusting the dosage or changing your method of contraception may aid in relieving mastalgia symptoms. If you’re looking to alter your birth control methods, gynaecologists on MFine will be able to recommend the right one for you.
- Hormone therapies post-menopause, including estrogen and progesterone therapies are most likely to cause non cyclic breast pain after menopause. Lowering the dosage or concluding it entirely may help in relieving breast pain symptoms based on the intensity of breast pain.
- Simple lifestyle adjustments to eliminate a specific aggravating factor. For example, wearing an extra supportive bra may help in reducing breast heaviness in women with large breasts.
There are some ways where you can manage breast pain at home. Some common breast pain home remedies include:
- Hot/Cold Compresses on the breast to relieve pain and swelling
- Wearing supportive bras if your breasts are naturally large can help in relieving breast pain and also strain to the neck, shoulder and back areas. Wearing a sports bra during physical activity or rigorous exercise can help in reducing strain to the breast caused by repetitive dynamic movements.
- Relaxation therapies to relieve high anxiety levels in some women who experience severe breast pain as a result.
- Eating a nutritious diet full of essential vitamins and minerals and limiting caffeine intake (if excessive). Detoxifying your body from harmful food habits has shown to be helpful in easing breast pain and symptoms associated with menstrual disorders like PCOD, polymenorrhea, hypomenorrhoea or oligomenorrhea. For women who are overweight or obese, a low-fat diet with more complex carbohydrates and protein can help in reducing mastalgia. If you’re seeking a weight loss diet plan for yourself, dieticians on MFine are available to chart healthy meal plans according to your weight loss goals.
- Taking vitamins and dietary supplements over a regular healthy diet. Vitamin E and evening primrose oil have been shown to be beneficial in relieving breast pain in some women. It is, however, important to consult with a gynaecologist first before taking any vitamin and dietary supplements of your own. They would be able to assess your vitamin profile and recommend dosages and also keep you aware of any side effects you can expect if any.
The effectiveness of these self-care tips may differ from woman to woman, as what may work for one may not work for the other. As preventing breast pain may not always be possible, it is recommended to do full body checks annually to monitor the status of your overall health. The best option would be to speak to your gynaecologist the moment you experience any sort of breast pain. He or she would be able to provide you with an accurate diagnosis and a suitable mastalgia treatment plan for your condition that will help in relieving the discomfort. Refer to more of our medical guides for causes, symptoms and treatment options for several other health-related conditions.
Frequently Asked Questions
What causes mastalgia?
Some common mastalgia causes include the effect of reproductive hormones on your menstrual cycle, changes in breast structure, breast size, and an imbalance of fatty acids in the body. Previous breast procedures, surgeries and trauma to the breast area can cause breast pain. Mastalgia may also be a side effect of certain hormone medications and hormone therapies.
How long does mastalgia last?
It is normal for mastalgia to last a few days to a week depending on your menstrual cycle. Having sore breasts before period is a common occurrence in young women. Mastalgia is known to start a few days before your period and last for a week only to recede gradually after. Postmenopausal women may experience mastalgia symptoms for a month. Breast pains that are caused by non-menstrual factors differ in terms of duration. However, you must consult a gynaecologist if you have persistent breast pain for over a month, breast pain in a localized area of the breast or breast pain that intensifies and does not subside.
Why do I have sore breasts during period?
Having sore breasts during period is normal and occurs due to the interplay of the body’s reproductive hormones and your menstrual cycles. Many women also attest to having breast pain before period for a few days leading up to their cycle. It is normal for the breast pain to last a week during your cycle and then recede. However, if the soreness or pain gets highly uncomfortable or persists longer than a few weeks, it is advised to seek medical assistance at the earliest to avoid any further breast-related complications.
Is breast pain before period a sign of mastalgia?
Yes, it is. It is normal for menstruating women to experience breast pain a few days before their cycle and is usually not a cause of concern. Consult a gynaecologist on MFine if you feel like the pain is not subsiding within a week or two.
What does mastalgia feel like?
Mastalgia meaning “breast pain” is commonly associated with burning pain, breast heaviness, tightness in breast and in most cases is linked to a women’s menstrual cycle. Pain levels can range anywhere from mild to severe. Sometimes even though mastalgia may feel like its originating from the breast, may have its source externally. Women have complained to feel pain in side of breasts due to pain in the breast bone, heart, or ribcage that is radiating to the breast.
Is swollen breast a symptom of mastalgia?
Yes. In the case of cyclic mastalgia, swelling of the breast may occur causing pain. Hot and cold compresses are one of the many breast pain home remedies you can use to relieve swelling.
What are some home remedies to relieve breast pain?
A few breast pain home remedies include hot and cold compresses, relaxation therapies, wearing supportive bras and eating a nutritious diet. Research has shown that some vitamin and dietary supplements aid in relieving breast pain but ensure you consult a gynaecologist for recommendations on what supplements you must take (if any) based on your symptoms.