Surgical Services

Breast pain guide

This information has been produced to provide you with information about breast pain and aims to answer any questions that you may have.

If you have any further queries then please discuss these with the medical or nursing staff caring for you.


How common is breast pain?Show [+]Hide [-]

Breast pain is very common; two out of three women will suffer from it at some time in their lives.

Often no cause can be found to account for the breast pain and although it can be worrying most breast pain can be treated and is very rarely a sign of breast cancer. There are two types of breast pain:

  1. Cyclical breast pain. This is related to your monthly cycle (period).
  2. Non-cyclical breast pain. This is not related to your monthly cycle.

Why does breast pain occur?

Your breast tissue is affected by hormones which control your monthly menstrual cycle (period). From the time of ovulation (when an egg is released by the ovary), usually about halfway between your period, the hormone level builds up and then rapidly falls once your period starts.

Some women have very sensitive breast tissue even though their hormone levels are normal. This increase in sensitivity is linked with the levels of fatty acids in the blood stream. Fatty acids are substances present in all fats and oils, which can affect the way in which the body responds to its own hormones.

Women with breast pain often have low levels of a fatty acid called Gamolenic Acid (GLA). Low levels of GLA are not caused by poor diet but changing your diet may help. This is explained below.

What can I do about cyclical breast pain?Show [+]Hide [-]

Taking Evening Primrose Oil capsules is the simplest and best nonhormonalagent to try first.

It contains GLA and has been shown to reduce breast pain in over 70% of women. Evening Primrose Oil cannot be prescribed by your doctor but can be bought over the counter in chemists or most supermarkets in 500mg or 1gm strengths. It needs to be taken in quite large doses (1-3gms) each day and it may take three to four months before you feel the benefit. Evening Primrose Oil should only be taken for six months at a time. Taking it for longer will not produce more improvement in your symptoms.

If Evening Primrose Oil is not effective other medications can be used, please ask your GP for more advice and information. Medication such as antibiotics, diuretics (water tablets) and Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) are not effective for breast pain.

There is evidence that breast sensitivity is related to diet, especially the balance between saturated and unsaturated fats. Try reducing your animal fat intake such as butter, cream and fatty meat and increase your daily intake of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Research has shown that caffeine may contribute to breast pain so reducing your caffeine intake in drinks such as tea, coffee and soft drinks may help.

Make sure that you wear a well fitting, supportive bra. Sometimes wearing a soft bra in bed at night may help.

Keep a diary of your pain marking the days when the pain is moderate or severe. Remember to mark the days when you have your period, this may show a pattern related to your breast pain.

Some medications used to treat breast pain have unpleasant side-effects so are usually reserved for those women who have severe breast pain that is not relieved by more simple measures. Please discuss this with your GP.

What if my pain does not follow a monthly cycle?

Non-cyclical breast pain may come from your ribs or the muscle of your chest wall. Sometimes the joint between the front end of a rib and the breastbone can become inflamed and painful.

Simple painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, can be bought over the counter and may be all that you need. Wear a well fitting, supportive bra.

Reducing your animal fat intake such as butter, cream and fatty meat and increasing your daily intake of fresh fruit and vegetables may also help.

More information

If you would like more advice please contact your GP or Practice Nurse.

Leaflet to download

You can download the information on this page as a pdf leaflet.pdf

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