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(Sunday, 26th Oct, 2014)
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Breast Pain

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Breast Pain (Mastalgia)

Is breast pain a sign that something is wrong?

Not usually. While pain is usually an indicator that something is amiss, when it comes to the breasts, there is rarely a serious cause. Breast cancer is usually painless therefore breast pain is NOT usually an indicator of this serious disease.

Breast pain, also known as mastalgia, is a very common complaint which many women simply accept as a normal feature of their menstrual cycle.

Breast pain can be divided into two types, cyclical and non-cyclical.

What is cyclical breast pain?

Cyclical breast pain is pain that is worse in the second half of the menstrual cycle. Women with this type of breast pain may notice a number of things in the seven to 10 days prior to their period:

  • Breasts feel full or heavy.
  • Breasts feel uncomfortable.
  • Breasts become lumpy and tender.
  • Pain or heaviness is usually felt on the outer half of the breast.
  • Breasts are tender when touched.

The severity of symptoms may differ from month to month, however it will usually entail a feeling of heaviness or aching.

Certain actions or movements may increase the pain. This can be especially troublesome if you have to use your arms a lot, for example if your work entails frequent lifting.

Despite the fact that cyclical pain occurs just before periods, there is no actual research that links differences in hormones to women who experience bad breast pain.

There is a theory that severe cyclical breast pain may be associated with an increase in the level of certain fatty acids in the blood. As a result it is thought that some lifestyle factors such as smoking and poor diet may play a role in breast pain, however it is not yet known precisely what this role is.

How is cyclical breast pain treated?

Many women do not require any treatment because the pain they experience is mild. However if you are in any way worried about breast pain, visit your doctor to put your mind at rest. He/she can rule out any underlying cause of the breast pain. (Cyclical breast pain is very rarely a sign of a serious illness such as cancer.)

For a small number of women, however, cyclical breast pain is so bad that it interferes with their daily life. In many such cases, evening primrose oil is recommended. Around two-thirds of women with cyclical breast pain respond to evening primrose oil. You will probably need to take it for several months to get the full benefit. Many women find that when they stop taking it, the breast pain tends to stay away or lessen.

For some women, evening primrose oil is not effective. In such cases your doctor may try a number of alternatives.

What is non-cyclical breast pain?

Non-cyclical pain often arises from the breast itself or from the muscles and ribs under the breast.

It usually happens to women who are older than those who have cyclical breast pain. It is most often seen in women in their 40s.

While the pain can be stabbing, it is more often described as a burning feeling. It can randomly come and go, with no recognisable pattern.

How is non-cyclical breast pain treated?

You may be given painkillers to ease the pain.

Evening primrose oil may be recommended. However, the response rate in acyclical breast pain is lower than that in cyclical breast pain.

If the pain is identified to a specific part of the chest you may be given anti-inflammatory cream to ease it.

Could my bra be affecting my breast pain?

Yes. Many women do not wear the right sized bra. If you have breast pain, you should visit a trained fitter to find out your correct size. If you find you are wearing the right size then you can rule out bra size as a factor in your pain. If you are wearing the wrong size, then stock up on the correct size. Many women find that wearing a sports bra helps their pain.

How do I know if my bra fits correctly?

  • Ensure your bra is not too tight as this can cause breathing difficulty.
  • Ensure that the breasts are fully contained within each cup. If the bra wrinkles at the front of the cup, it is too big for you. If your breasts are coming out at the side of the cup, the bra is too small.
  • Check that your flesh is not bulging over the top of the cups or beneath the band at the back.
  • If the bra is underwired, the underwire should be lying flat against your body. It should not be digging into your breast.
  • If you have large breasts, ensure the straps of the bra are wide enough and strong enough to support them.
  • Your breasts should not be pushed to one side or the other. They should lie naturally on your chest.
  • You should always test the fit of your bra while standing and sitting. Is it equally comfortable in both positions?

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