Breast pain

14 March 2017.

Breast pain, also called mastalgia, is very common. The pain may be felt as heaviness or soreness, or a stabbing or burning sensation. It can be felt in any part of the breast and may spread to nearby areas too. Some people worry that breast pain may be a sign of a serious condition such as breast cancer, but pain by itself is rarely a sign of cancer [1].

Breast pain is commonly caused by changes in hormone levels that occur during the menstrual cycle. This is known as cyclical breast pain. Hormone changes may be the cause of your pain if:

  • you still have periods (you haven’t yet reached the menopause) or are having hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
  • the pain starts around the same time every month (usually one to three days before the start of your period) and improves at the end of your period
  • both breasts are affected (although occasionally only one may be)

Conditions to rule out first, under medical supervision [1];

  • Pregnancy
  • Breast lumps– (fibroadenoma; breast cyst; or mastitis- most breast lumps are harmless, but they should be checked by a doctor just in case they’re a sign of something serious, such as cancer)
  • Breast abscess (these are red and feel hot; cause the surrounding skin to swell; and may cause a fever)
  • Mastitis– (breast is red, swollen and painful. It can be caused by a bacterial infection or breastfeeding)
  • Breast injury- (Breast pain can be caused by an injury to nearby muscles, joints or bones. Sometimes pain can spread along the nerves in your chest so that it feels like it’s in your breast)
  • Breast-feeding problems
  • Breast cancer- (Pain by itself is rarely a sign of breast cancer. It’s more likely to be a sign of cancer if you also have other symptoms of breast cancer)

Medical treatments that can sometimes cause breast pain, include [1]:


Note: If your symptoms are caused by your hormonal medication, we suggest that you discuss your options with a doctor. These steps may reduce symptom severity, but are unlikely to be able to stop them completely whilst you remain on the same medication.

TOP TIPS! Wearing a supportive bra during the day, at night, and while exercising can help reduce the pain, as can over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, and gels that you rub into your skin such as ibuprofen or diclofenac.

Managing hormone-related breast pain:

Try a hormone-balancing diet– As outlined in this blog, a vegetable-based ‘anti-inflammatory’ diet can significantly improve all hormone-related symptoms. We highlight a few of the key steps that are especially relevant for those suffering from breast pain, below;

Try nutritional supplements:

Iodine is recommended by dietitians as a highly effective treatment for cyclical breast pain, since it significantly reduces the breast changes associated with it [2]. However, it can be harmful to the thyroid gland, so DO NOT EXCEED 0.5 mg daily, unless your doctor advises this [3].

Vitex Agnus Castus (200- 500 mg of extract daily) is reported by many dietitians to be a reliable treatment for cyclical breast pain, and there is some research that supports this claim [4].

Vitamin E (200 IU daily) has also been shown to eliminate breast pain (in 70% of study participants) after just two months of supplementation [5].


If you have tried the suggested tips and tricks for at least 3 months, and your symptoms do not improve, please consult your doctor.

If you have any suggestions, or tips, for managing breast pain- please let us know– we can share them with others!


Further information:


Page last reviewed and updated: June 2018


References:

  1. NHS. 2016. Breast Pain. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/breastpaincyclical/Pages/Introduction.aspx. [Accessed 31 March 2017].
  2. Kessler JH. (2004) ‘The effect of supraphysiologic levels of iodine on patients with cyclic mastalgia’. Breast J. Jul-Aug;10(4):328-36. PubMed PMID: 15239792
  3. BDA- Association of UK Dietitians. 2016. Iodine Fact sheet. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/Iodine.pdf [Accessed 31 March 2017].
  4. Carmichael AR. (2008) ‘Can Vitex Agnus Castus be Used for the Treatment of Mastalgia? What is the Current Evidence?’ Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. Sep;5(3):247-50. doi: 10.1093/ecam/nem074. PubMed PMID: 18830450; PubMed Central
    PMCID: PMC2529385
  5. Parsay S, Olfati F, Nahidi S. (2009) ‘Therapeutic effects of vitamin E on cyclic mastalgia’. Breast J.  Sep-Oct;15(5):510-4. doi: 10.1111/j.1524-4741.2009.00768.x. Epub 2009 Jul 14. PubMed PMID: 19614907

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