Causes of Breast Pains – Diagnosis of Breast Pain Symptoms

What is breast pain?

Breast pains are severe, sharp, stabbing, shooting or throbbing pains of the breast either felt on the outside of the breast (superficial) or deeper within the breast tissue. Pain may be a result of breast inflammation and can be accompanied by breast swelling, warmth/heat and/or redness of the skin.

Breast pain (medical term ~ mastalgia) is an indication of pathology of the breast itself or underlying organs within the thoracic cavity (thorax or chest). Less commonly, breast pain may indicate pathology at other areas with referred pain to the breast.

Breast Pain or Sore, Tender Breasts

It is important to differentiate between sore or tender breasts and pain. Tender breasts are a common occurrence in normal physiological phases in a woman’s life, like prior to menstruation and pregnancy. Breast pain is usually an indication of pathology that needs to be investigated.

Questions to ask yourself when differentiating breast pain from soreness or tenderness.

  • Is the pain aggravated with touch or pressure to the point that it is excruciating and unbearable? Pain is usually excruciating and unbearable even with light pressure.
  • Is the pain affecting your mood, ability to concentrate and focus on work? Pain impairs mental functioning and impacts on your emotional state.
  • Is the pain affecting your sleep patterns or normal body movements? Pain disturbs your normal sleep pattern, either falling asleep or maintaining sleep and impairs normal body movements which may aggravate the sensation of pain.
  • Do you need to use pain killers constantly to ease the level of discomfort and function properly? Persistent pain usually requires anti-inflammatory drugs or analgesics to reduce the sensation and allow for normal sleep and mental or physical functioning.

Breast pain or other breast symptoms are indicative of  underlying pathology that needs to be identified, investigated and treated.

Localized Causes of Breast Pain

Unilateral (one side) or bilateral (both sides) breast pain, either intermittent or persistent, due to causes directly related to pathology within the breast.

  • Mastitis (breast infection)
  • Breast Abscess
  • Breast Cancer
  • Fat necrosis
  • Trauma or Injury
  • Breast augmentation or surgery (post-operatively)
  • Fibrocystic breast disease
  • Mastodynia
  • Excessive intake of certain hormone altering/regulating drugs like oral contraceptives, hormone replacement therapy and fertility drugs.

Non-Localized Causes of Breast Pain

Unilateral or bilateral breast pain, either intermittent or persistent,  due to causes or pathology of other areas of the body (lungs, heart, muscles or bones of the chest, spinal column, jaw or dental causes). Breast pain in these cases may be a result of referred pain or perceived as pain of the breast itself.

  • Lung infections
  • Inflammatory lung disease
  • Lung cancer
  • Angina
  • Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
  • Psychosomatic or ‘chest pains’ due to anxiety.
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Abdominal pathology causing abdominal pain
  • Heartburn / Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Cervical spondylosis
  • Rib or sternal injury or fracture
  • Muscle pain – pectoral muscles and intercostal muscles
  • Shingles

Diagnosis of Breast Pain

If you are experiencing persistent breast pain, which is severe and aggravating with time, it is advisable to seek immediate medical attention. A comprehensive case history followed by physical examination would be the first approach to diagnosing the cause of breast pain. It is important to inform your doctor of any aggravating or ameliorating factors – contributing factors that may increase, reduce or relieve pain temporarily. Based on your doctor’s assessment of your case history and physical examination, further diagnostic investigation (tests and procedures) may be required to confirm a diagnosis.

Diagnostic Procedures for Breast Pain

  • Mammography to identify masses within the breast or a chest x-ray to identify lung pathology and fractured ribs.
  • Culture and cytology of any nipple discharge or from the breast lesions to identify microorganisms causing infection.
  • Fine needle aspiration for the removal and investigation of fluid within a cyst.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Treatment of breast pain will be directed at the causative factor(s) once diagnosed.


  1. Breast Pain. Merck
  2. Causes of Breast Pain. Wrongdiagnosis

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  • cherlyn

    i have swollen in left breast , but also i also have a bad tooth can i have an infections from this

    • Dr. Chris

      Hi Cherlyn

      It is not common but if your saliva is making contact with your breast/nipple, then it is a possibility. It could possibly be due to biting your fingernails or thumb/finger sucking and then touching your breast. A swollen breast may not necessarily be an infection. Consult with a gynecologist to verify the cause of the swelling.

      • Christy

        I don’t have a swollen breast its my right breast but it really does hurt me pretty badly I cry due to the pain so does anyone have any suggestions that would lead me to the right direction I can not wait till the 17th for my mammogram I can’t even sleep at night cause the pain is so unbearable so any info would really help me out.

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  • samfoluke

    I’m 29 yrs and have no kids. Im experiencing pains (on and off) on the lower left side of my left breast. i did a mamogram of both last January because of a lump felt in my right breast. Cancer nor any infection was not detected. The pains would be felt in my right breast sometimes. Pains just before my period is common but not so fequent and is felt in the center of the breast. what could be the cause?

    • Dr. Chris

      Hi Samfoluke

      The question is was a mammogram done this year? You say last January which means 2009. Cancer and infection are not the only causes of breast pain and you should speak to your gynecologist about it. Given the incidence of breast cancer these days, it would not be fair to give you a list of possible diagnosis and leave you to chalk it up to one of these. You must see your gynecologist about any breast pain. Tenderness and swelling are common with hormonal changes but this is more around the nipple. Sometimes it could just be a poorly fitting brassiere. Either way, see your gynecologist. Your age group is considered as high risk.

  • Silvana M

    I recently (last week or so) started to experience a dull sharp pain in my left breast when upward pressure it applied to it. I noticed it the first time because I had never felt that before even around my cycle which usually is accompanied by tenderness. After my cycle, I knelt down to lift something off the ground and noticed the pain again, a dull sharp pain that lasts about 1 min. Just had my annual girl checkup and everything seemed to be in order. The bad brassier fit from the doctor’s comments below is interesting and could be a potential source – very much can appreciate this tip. I’m a 36 years old former smoker (4 years a non-smoker) and don’t want to underestimate any pain.

    • Hi Silvana. It is always good to be cautious especially as an ex-smoker (4 years smoking free is still early days and you are at risk for now). Often pains like you are describing are due to not as serious causes like a poorly fitting brassiere. Try to change that first. If it doesn’t resolve then follow up with your doctor. Better to be safe than sorry.

      • Silvana M

        Thank you

  • jawad mirza

    Hello sir.I am experiencing a severe pain in both breasts.I am 27years old unmarried.I have a boyfriend.Yesterday my boyfriend sucked my nipples so hard that my breasts are paining internally.Please suggest a remedy or treatment.

  • Hi Ronnie. Pain without any other symptoms is a difficult symptom to diagnose because it is present in so may possible conditions. What happened 8 months ago may not the same reason for why it is occurring now. So it would be advisable to have it checked again. It could be from the breast itself, the underlying structures of the chest wall or even deeper lying organs within the chest cavity. Further tests will be needed, irrespective of the test results from last year.