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Breast pain

There are many reasons breasts can be painful. It’s not usually anything serious, but see a GP if the pain does not improve.

Causes of breast pain

Breast pain is usually linked to periods. Sometimes it can be caused by a health condition or medicine.

Breast pain linked to periods

Breast pain linked to periods usually:

  • begins up to 2 weeks before a period, gets worse and then goes away when the period ends
  • feels dull, heavy or aching
  • affects both breasts and sometimes spreads to the armpit

Other causes of breast pain

Other causes of breast pain include:

  • injuries or sprains to the neck, shoulder or back – these can be felt as breast pain
  • medicines like the contraceptive pill and some antidepressants
  • conditions like mastitis or a breast abscess
  • pregnancy
  • hormone changes during the menopause

Breast pain by itself is unlikely to be a symptom of cancer.

Things you can do to ease breast pain

To help ease breast pain:

  • 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

There's little evidence that vitamin E tablets or evening primrose oil help with breast pain.

Non-urgent advice: See a GP about breast pain if:

  • it's not improving or painkillers are not helping
  • there's a history of breast cancer in your family
  • you have any signs of pregnancy – you could do a pregnancy test first

Urgent advice: Ask for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS 111 if:

  • you have breast pain and have a very high temperature or feel hot and shivery
  • any part of your breast is red, hot or swollen
  • there's a hard lump in your breast that does not move around
  • you get nipple discharge, which may be streaked with blood
  • 1 or both breasts change shape
  • the skin on your breast is dimpled (like orange peel)
  • you have a rash on or around your nipple, or the nipple has sunk into your breast

These can be signs of something more serious.

You can call 111 or get help from 111 online.

Page last reviewed: 22 June 2020
Next review due: 22 June 2023