Mastalgia, more commonly known as breast pain, affects up to 70 percent of women at some time in their lives, according to the Mayo Clinic; 10 percent of women have moderate to severe mastalgia more than five days per month. Breast pain is classified as either cyclic (related to the menstrual cycle) or noncyclic; the symptoms differ slightly depending on which of these categories the pain falls into. Although mastalgia can affect any woman, it's less common among those who are postmenopausal.
Cyclic Breast Pain Symptoms
Cyclic mastalgia clearly correlates to the menstrual cycle, typically growing more and more intense during the two weeks before the start of your period, and then easing up, according to the Mayo Clinic. Cyclic breast pain usually is dull, heavy or aching, and may occur along with breast swelling or "lumpiness." Both breasts are typically affected, especially the upper, outer areas. Cyclic mastalgia is most common among premenopausal women in their 20s and 30s and perimenopausal women in their 40s, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Noncyclic Breast Pain Symptoms
Noncyclic breast pain, as the name suggests, is not related to the menstrual cycle. This pain may come and go or be constant, and is usually characterized as a feeling of tightness, burning or soreness, according to the Mayo Clinic. Noncyclic mastalgia usually is felt primarily in a focused area of only one breast, though the pain may spread throughout that breast. Noncyclic mastalgia is most common among postmenopausal women in their 40s and 50s, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Extramammary Breast Pain
Occasionally, what seems to be mastalgia has its origins elsewhere. Straining a chest muscle could cause pain in the chest wall that appears to be coming from the breast, for example. This is referred to as extramammary breast pain, according to the Mayo Clinic.
It's often impossible to pinpoint a single cause of mastalgia. Possible factors include reproductive hormones, particularly if the pain is cyclic; anatomical conditions such as cysts, surgery or injury in or near the breast; a fatty acid imbalance, which can make breast tissue more sensitive; and the use of hormonal medications, including some infertility drugs, oral contraceptives and antidepressants. Women with large breasts may be more prone to noncyclic mastalgia, usually accompanied by pain in the neck, shoulders and back, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Relieving the Symptoms
Various home remedies may ease the discomfort of mastalgia symptoms. Placing hot or cold compresses on your breasts, limiting or eliminating caffeine from your diet and wearing a supportive bra (or sports bra, when exercising or sleeping) may offer some relief, according to the Mayo Clinic. Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, may be helpful as well. Some doctors recommend keeping a journal of the pain to help determine whether the pain is cyclic or noncyclic.
Other treatment options for cyclic mastalgia include taking an oral contraceptive, or adjusting the dosage if you're already taking one; noncyclic mastalgia may be improved with the application of a topical nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication, according to the Mayo Clinic.