Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2000;61(8):2385

See related article on breast problems.

Breast pain is a common problem in younger women who are still having their periods (menstrual cycle). It is less common in older women. The pain can be in one breast or in both. It may come and go each month, or it may last for several weeks, or even months, and then just go away.

What causes breast pain?

Pain or tenderness in your breasts can have many causes. Here are some of them:

  • Hormone changes during your period

  • Water retention, which may happen during your period

  • Injury to your breast

  • Pregnancy

  • Breast-feeding (nursing)

  • An infection in the breast

  • Breast cancer (not a usual cause of breast pain)

How can my doctor find the cause of my breast pain?

Your doctor will ask you questions to find the cause of your pain and decide if you need treatment. Your doctor will also check to see if you have lumps in your breasts.

If you are younger than 35 years of age and don't have a breast lump, your doctor might decide that you don't need any tests. If you are more than 35 years of age and don't have a breast lump, your doctor might want you to get a mammogram. A mammogram is a special x-ray of the breasts.

If you have a lump (or several lumps) in your breast, your doctor might decide that you need one or more of these tests:

  • A mammogram

  • A breast sonogram. This painless test uses sound waves to make a picture of the lump.

  • A breast biopsy. For this test, some tissue is taken out of your breast and looked at under a microscope.

How is breast pain treated?

There are different treatments for breast pain. You and your doctor can talk about these treatments and choose one or more that might work for you. Here are some treatments for breast pain that does not seem to have a cause:

  • Wearing a support bra

  • Taking an over-the-counter pain medicine

  • Taking evening primrose oil

  • Taking danazol (brand name: Danocrine)—for pain that is very bad

Other treatments for breast pain are sometimes used. There is no proof that these treatments work:

  • Avoiding caffeine

  • Using less salt

  • Taking vitamin E or vitamin B6

  • Taking a “water-pill” (a diuretic)

Most of the time, breast pain goes away all by itself after a few months.

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