What is Mastalgia?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 17 May 2020
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Any form of pain in the breast may be known by the general term of mastalgia. Breast pain can have different origins and doctors often make the distinction between two kinds that may occur. These are called noncyclical and cyclical or noncyclic and cyclic.

Cyclical forms are very familiar to some women and often arise at particular points during the menstrual cycle. If the mastalgia condition is new, sometimes doctors will diagnose it by asking women to chart exactly when they experience the pain each month. The cyclical type usually occurs around the same time every month, and many women may experience this a week to a few days prior to menstruation.

Degree of pain felt may vary by the person experiencing cyclical mastalgia. Sometimes the breasts swell and shirts or bras may feel too tight. This could be anything from mildly to extremely painful, and it might occur in one or both breasts. Similar pain in the breasts could be felt with great hormonal changes, such as those associated with early pregnancy and early lactation. Though these pains usually cease, they can at first be greatly difficult to bear, and occasionally excruciating for some women.

Noncyclical mastalgia tends not to have a cause related to hormones or menstrual cycle. It might be the result of blunt trauma, infection, and sometimes muscle aches or joint pains that result in inflammation in the chest. Some people with arthritis suffer from this condition, for instance.

When women go to their physicians to get treatment for mastalgia, it is first important to determine the cause. Should a hormonal issue be suspected, doctors may want to treat by augmenting certain hormones or decreasing others, occasionally using male steroids or medications like tamoxifen. Sometimes if the pain appears to be transient doctors may ask patients to wait a few weeks to see if the condition improves. This may be particularly true with early pregnancy or lactation, since breast pain is a normal symptom of these time periods. On the other hand, during lactation, infection of the breast’s milk ducts or mastitis has to be considered a potential cause of mastalgia.

The methods for addressing mastalgia of noncyclical types also depend on cause. Blunt injury to the breast may be treated with pain relievers, icing and rest. Treating underlying conditions like arthritis could be variable and depend on type. When no cause can be determined, medical support could include pain relievers, and recommendations on comfortable and supportive bras.

Mastalgia is often mistaken by the women who suffer from it as a precursor to cancer. There are a few forms of breast cancer that can cause inflammation but these are extremely rare. Most breast cancers do not create pain. Nevertheless, concerns about potentially having cancer should be addressed, perhaps by having a mammogram. On the other hand, if breast pain is ongoing and severe, this routine screening may be very difficult to undergo.


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