Breast Pain

Breast pain is very common. Most women experience some degree of pain, tenderness or aching. For some women, the pain is mild and barely noticeable. However, other women may find the pain very uncomfortable, causing annoyance and anxiety. Breast pain may be experienced in both breasts, only one breast, or in a specific area of a breast.

Breast pain has several causes. The most frequent cause is cyclical hormonal changes. Normal breasts responses to the surge of estrogen just before the menstrual period include tenderness, shooting pain, aching and increased generalized lumpiness. These responses occur about one week prior to menses and usually dissipate with the end of your menstrual cycle. Women may experience cyclical pain in both breasts, although some may find one breast is more painful than the other. Many times hormonal replacement therapy will stimulate natural hormonal responses and therefore cause breast pain. Pain may be aggravated by certain substances in the diet. Caffeine along with the herbs Ginseng and Dong Quai have often been associated with breast pain. Some medications, particularly those used to treat hypertension and heart disease, may cause breast sensitivity and pain.

Women who smoke tend to experience a higher incidence of breast pain. The nicotine in cigarettes narrows the blood vessels above the waist in women, contributing to breast pain.

Injury to the breast may cause short-term tenderness and pain. Commonly, women will experience some bruising at the affected area. As discoloration decreases, the pain usually subsides. Trauma does not increase the risk of breast cancer.

It is important to provide proper fit and style of brassieres. Experiment with different styles and non-underwire bras to find the one that works best.

Some women have found relief from their breast pain by using one or a combination of the following suggestions:

  • Vitamin E 400-800 I U/daily
  • Reduce caffeine intake
  • Anti-inflammation medications (Advil®, Aleve®, aspirin)
  • Eliminate smoking
  • Evening Primrose Oil, 6 capsules daily
  • Warm compresses
  • Decrease intake of Ginseng and/or Dong Quai

These measures may take up to a month to be effective.

Estimates indicate 90 percent of women experience some degree of breast pain at some point in their lives. Breast pain does not usually indicate cancer, and is most commonly is caused by some of the other reasons mentioned earlier. This pain may be uncomfortable and disconcerting, but is manageable.

Chest Wall Pain

Occasionally, pain in the chest wall, also know as musculoskeletal pain, can imitate breast pain. Any new physical activity can bring on muscle soreness, another cause of musculoskeletal pain. Women are prone to developing costochondritis, inflammation of the rib cartilage around the breast bone. Anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen, Motrin® or Advil® can be helpful if the pain is severe.

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