Breast Tenderness

What is breast tenderness?

Breast tenderness is pain or discomfort in the breasts. It is a very common symptom for women. It is usually not a sign of breast cancer.

What is the cause?

The most common cause of breast tenderness is called fibrocystic breast changes. These changes are caused by the swelling of very tiny pockets of fluid, called cysts, in fibrous (thick or lumpy) tissue in the breast. The changes usually happen in both breasts 7 to 10 days before your menstrual period. They begin to go away when your period starts and are usually gone by the time your period ends.

Other causes of breast tenderness include:

  • Puberty (in boys as well as girls)
  • Pregnancy (In the first part of pregnancy, your breasts and nipples can become very tender to the touch and easily irritated. Breast pain later in pregnancy may be due to the weight of breasts that have become enlarged and heavy.)
  • Infection of the breast
  • Hormone imbalance, especially too much estrogen
  • Birth control pills
  • Breast-feeding, when the breasts become full of milk (engorged)
  • Injury of the breast
  • A noncancerous tumor in the breast
  • Having high levels of the milk-producing hormone prolactin in your blood

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine your breasts. Tests may include:

  • A mammogram, which is an X-ray of the breast
  • Ultrasound, which uses sound waves to show pictures of the breast
  • A biopsy, which is removal of a small sample of tissue or fluid for testing
  • Blood tests

How is it treated?

Often no medical treatment is needed. Your healthcare provider may recommend that you:

  • Wear a bra that gives good support, especially if you exercise or have large breasts. If you are having discomfort from pregnancy-related breast changes, wear a well-fitting maternity bra. Put heat on your breast with a covered warm water bottle, warm moist cloths, or a heating pad set at the lowest heat setting.
  • Take nonprescription pain medicine, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, you should not take these medicines for more than 10 days.
    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age.
    • Acetaminophen may cause liver damage or other problems. Unless recommended by your provider, don’t take more than 3000 milligrams (mg) in 24 hours. To make sure you don’t take too much, check other medicines you take to see if they also contain acetaminophen. Ask your provider if you need to avoid drinking alcohol while taking this medicine.
  • Cut back on caffeine, such as coffee, tea, cola, and chocolate for a few months. Some women find their pain is less when they reduce or stop caffeine.

In some cases your healthcare provider may prescribe hormones or other medicine. If you have an infection, take the antibiotic prescribed by your provider.

Surgery is rarely needed. However, if you have a breast cyst, your healthcare provider may drain or remove it. If you have a tumor, your healthcare provider may remove it.

How can I take care of myself?

  • Have a yearly exam by your healthcare provider and get regular screening mammograms as advised by your provider.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about the benefits of doing regular breast self-exams. It is important to know how your breasts normally look and feel so that you can report any changes to your provider.
  • If you keep having problems with breast pain despite treatment, contact your healthcare provider.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-12-11
Last reviewed: 2014-12-11
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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