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Breast pain

There are many reasons breasts can be painful. Breast pain by itself is very unlikely to be a symptom of cancer.

Breast pain is often linked to periods

Symptoms of breast pain caused by periods:

  • dull, heavy or aching pain – from mild to very bad
  • pain that begins up to 2 weeks before a period, gets worse and then goes away when the period ends
  • usually (but not always) affects both breasts and sometimes pain spreads to the armpit

How to ease the pain yourself

You can:

  • take paracetamol or ibuprofen, or rub painkilling gel on your breasts
  • wear a properly fitted bra during the day and a soft bra to sleep in
  • take Evening Primrose Oil.

Breast pain not linked to periods

Sometimes breast pain is caused by:

  • injuries or sprains to the neck, shoulder or back – these can also be felt as breast pain
  • medicines like the contraceptive pill and some antidepressants. Check the side effects in the packet's information leaflet
  • conditions like mastitis or a breast abscess. These can cause breast pain along with other symptoms
  • pregnancy – breast pain can be an early sign

Breast pain and the menopause

Hormone changes during the menopause can cause breast pain.

Once the menopause is over (you've had 12 months without a period) the pain usually settles.

See a GP about breast pain if:

  • it's not improving or painkillers aren't helping
  • you have a very high temperature or feel hot and shivery
  • any part of your breast is red, hot or swollen
  • you have any signs of pregnancy. You could do a pregnancy test first

Related files

Breast Pain - A guide for women (PDF, 368KB, 12 pages)

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE.

page last reviewed: 16/05/2019
next review due: 16/05/2022