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Causes and Treatments for a Sharp Pain in Your Breast

A Clear Diagnosis of Breast Pain Can Lead to Treatment and Relief


Updated June 30, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

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It can be very alarming to have a sharp pain in your breast. When breast tissue develops a burning, tingling, stabbing, or shooting pain you may be caught off guard and start to worry. This kind of breast pain doesn't come and go with your menstrual cycle, and it usually affects one breast. Because this sharp pain is so near your heart, you make even think it is related to a heart attack. Breast pain can be diagnosed and treated - either with home remedies or prescription medications.

Which Type of Breast Pain Is It?

Breast pain, or mastalgia, is divided into two types of pain.

  • Cyclic Breast Pain:
    This type of breast pain varies with your menstrual cycle. Cyclic breast pain increases and decreases in response to your monthly hormone swings. It is feels like a dull, heavy, ache in both breasts. Cyclic breast pain may even extend into your armpit areas. Premenopausal women are most likely to have cyclic breast pain.
  • Noncyclical Breast Pain:
    A sharp, burning or stabbing pain in one breast that is constant or intermittent is probably not related to your menstrual cycle. Noncyclical breast pain occurs on one side. This type of breast pain may be inside, beneath, or near the breast. When it occurs, this sharp breast pain feels like it is in one specific area or trigger zone. When noncyclical pain shows up near the breast, it may feel like angina, but may really be in your chest wall muscles, rib cage, joints, or spine. This type of breast pain can show up regardless of your menopausal status.

Causes of Sharp Pain in Your Breast

Breasts contain nerves, blood vessels and connective tissues as well as ducts and lobes for producing breast milk. Your breasts are not protected by bones or major muscles - if a breast is injured, it may bruise and ache until it has healed. If you've had any type of breast surgery - augmentation, reduction, mastectomy or reconstruction - the affected tissues will hurt after surgery and as scar tissue develops. Within your breast, cysts and fibroadenomas may grow and press on adjacent tissue, causing regional breast pain. Near your nipple or beneath it, an abscess may develop or milk ducts may become clogged and infected, resulting in mastitis or ductal ectasia. Large breasts may cause noncyclical pain that may affect your breasts as well as neck, shoulders, and back. When your stress levels are high, you may feel sharp pains in your breast, due to tensing nearby muscle groups. Breast cancer very rarely causes sharp breast pain, but it may do so in a few cases.

And Causes of Sharp Pain Near Your Breast

Sometimes a sharp pain occurs so close to your breast that it's hard to tell if the pain is in within your breast or beneath it. There could be several causes for this sharp or burning pain. Costochondritis is a potentially painful inflammation of the chest wall cartilage and bones. If you have any arthritis in your sternum (breast bone) coughing or taking deep breaths can cause what seems to be breast pain. Bronchitis is a painful inflammation of the airways that lead into your lungs. The pain of bronchitis is worse when you cough or try to strain for breath, but it can feel like breast pain. If you've been lifting, exercising, or bending improperly, you may have developed a pulled muscle in your chest wall, caused a rib fracture, or brought on back pain - all of which may feel the same as a sharp pain in your breast.

Diagnosis of Sharp Pain in Breast

When you're trying to get a clear diagnosis of that sharp breast pain, be your own best friend. Keep a chart of your menstrual periods and breast pain cycle so you can judge whether or not the pain is related to your hormonal cycle. Consult your doctor and have a clinical breast exam done. Your doctor will also review your health history and list of medications. If more information about the pain is needed, you may be referred for a mammogram or breast ultrasound. You may have a breast infection, cysts or fibroadenomas - all of which can be treated. Remember that breast cancer usually does not cause sharp breast pain, but if you find a breast lump and it is painful, get it checked out and treated.

Treatment for Sharp Pain in Breast

Once you clear up the cause of your breast pain, start a treatment that matches your diagnosis. Home care for breast pain can be as easy as hot or cold packs, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, aspirin, or Vitamin E. Evening Primrose Oil helps alleviate breast pain, if you have a fatty acid imbalance. Antibiotics or other prescription medications may help breast infections and inflammation. And if your pain is related to high stress levels or too much water retention, try avoiding caffeine and salt for a while. A cup of herbal tea, a lavender-scented candle and a hot soak in the tub may just go a long way toward lowering stress and decreasing breast pain.


Breast Pain. Bonica's Management of Pain, pages 1052-1053. Jane C Ballantyne, Scott M Fishman, James P. Rathmell. Published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2009.

Breast Pain; Pp. 77-85. Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book. Susan M. Love, M.D. Fifth Edition, 2010.

Breast Pain. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. National Institutes of Health. Last Updated: 12/31/2008.

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