7 Common Breast Problems Among Women

Are you having second thoughts about your breasts? Do you feel something unusual that you are not sure whether it should be a cause for concern or not? Take action and get yourself knowledgeable about the most prevalent breast issues among women.

Our breasts are important to us as a woman. Let’s not just aim for bigger and perkier breasts, let’s aim for healthier twins too. Check out the most common breast problems and examine yourself if you are experiencing any of it.

1. Breast Pain (Mastalgia)

At some point in our lives we experienced breast pain, do you agree? This could be due to the normal swelling of breast tissues during the menstrual cycle, infection, injury, growth or cancer.

In general, the swelling of breast tissue during our period is painful, but it is not dangerous. Also, there is no treatment needed, if you can tolerate the discomfort.

📌Each monthly cycle brings hormonal changes, specifically estrogen and progesterone. This may bring more fluid into the breasts that cause the expansion of tissue and stretching of the nerve fiber. This results in breast pain.

Trauma and infection in the breasts have the same symptoms. However, infections tend to become walled from surrounding tissues and produce small abscesses that may appear like cysts.

Cysts may produce pain, but breast cancer rarely does. However, pain does not rule out the possibility of cancer.

Breast Pain Symptoms

There are two types of breast pains cyclical and non-cyclical. Check out the symptoms of each type below:

Symptoms of cyclical breast pain

  • Pain comes cyclically like your menstrual cycle
  • Breast becomes tender
  • Soreness with heaviness or heavy and dull ache.
  • Stabbing or burning pain
  • Breasts may swell
  • Breast may become lumpy
  • Both breasts are affected especially upper and outer portions
  • Pain can spread to the underarm
  • Pain becomes more intense before your period begins.
  • Pain may start a couple of weeks before menstruation
  • Likely affect younger women
  • Postmenopausal women may experience the same if they are on HRT (hormone replacement therapy).

Symptoms of non-cyclical breast pain

  • Affects just one breast, usually within a quadrant of the breast
  • Common among post-menopausal women
  • Pain does not come and go in a menstrual cycle time-loop
  • Pain may be continuous or sporadic
  • Mastitis
  • Extramammary pain – pain feels as if the source is within the breast

Breast Pain Causes

If you are experiencing breast pains and you are wondering why then to ease your mind, here are some conditions that can cause breast pain:

  • Breast cysts
  • Medications (infertility treatments, oral hormonal contraceptives, Postmenopausal estrogen and progesterone preparations, Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI),antidepressants, digitalis preparations, methyldopa (Aldomet), spironolactone (Aldactone), some diuretics, Anadrol and chlorpromazine)
  • Breast Surgery
  • Costochondritis
  • Fibrocystic breast changes
  • Mastitis
  • A poorly fitted bra

Breast Pain Treatment

For menstrual-related breast pain, you can take a paracetamol like an acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drugs such as aspirin (Anacin, Bayer), ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve or Naprosyn).

For pregnancy-related mastalgia, you can wear a firm, supportive brassiere or take acetaminophen. Both can help.

Other treatments include hot or cold compress on the breasts, eliminating caffeine, low-fat diet, and evening primrose oil and vitamin E. When the last two are used together it reduces the severity of breast pain.

When to see a doctor:

If you say yes to any of the following, you should call and see a doctor:

  • Keeps you from doing your daily activities
  • It lasts longer than two weeks
  • Accompanies a new lump that appears to be getting thicker
  • Concentrated in one specific area of your breast
  • Seems to get worse with time
  • One or both breasts change in size or shape
  • There is a discharge in either of the nipple
  • There is a rash around the nipple
  • There is dimpling on the skin of the breasts
  • You feel pain in your armpits or breasts not related to menstrual cycle
  • Your nipple looks different

2. Breast Lumps

Breast lumps come in several forms like cysts, adenomas and papillomas. They usually differ in size, shape, location and treatment.

For instance, cysts can be large or small. They can be harmless, fluid-filled sacs and be painful.

Cysts occurred when a fluid gets trapped in the breast tissue. This is very common among women aged 35 to 50. The good news is that they usually disappear with menopause.

On the other hand, fibroadenomas are the most common benign breast tumors in women under 25 and occasionally in adolescents. These lumps are usually round and mobile. They tend to degenerate after menopause.

📌Meanwhile, nipple adenomas are tumors in the nipple areas. They also vary in appearance and sometimes come back after removal. In general, adenomas are benign. But they have the potential to become adenocarcinomas which are malignant or cancerous.

Intraductal papilloma is an uncommon small growth in the lining of the milk ducts near the nipple. This is usually seen in women over 40 years old. This condition may produce a bloody discharge, but these are usually benign.

Most lumps are benign but, but it is recommended that you check with your doctor whenever you find a new or unusual lump to make sure if its precancerous or cancerous.

Breast Lump Symptoms

In general, lumps cannot be seen but felt.  You have to do a breast self-exam to know if you have lumps or not. To do this, just follow the instructions below.

In the mirror:

  1. Undress from waist up. Check if your breasts have equal size or shape. If they are not, don’t worry most are not. Relax your arms and look for changes in size, shape, position and breast skin. Are there any puckering, dimpling, sore or discoloration?
  2. Check your nipples and look for any sores, peeling or change in direction.
  3. Place your hands on your hips and press down firmly to tighten the chest muscles beneath your breasts.
  4. Turn from side to side so you can look at the outer part of your breasts.
  5. Bend forward toward the mirror.
  6. Roll your shoulders and elbows forward to tighten chest muscles. Your breasts will fall forward.
  7. Look for any changes in shape or contour.
  8. Clasp your hands behind your head and press it forward.
  9. Turn from side to side to inspect your breasts’ outer portions.
  10. Look at the border underneath. You may need to lift your breasts with your hand to see it.
  11. Check your nipples for discharge fluid by placing your thumb and forefinger on the tissue surrounding the nipple and pull outward toward the end of the nipple.
  12. Look for any discharge.
  13. Repeat on your other breast.

In the shower:

  1. Feel for changes in the breast. It will be easier if you have your hands slippery with soap and water.
  2. Check for any lumps or thickening in your underarm area.
  3. Place the left hand on your hip and reach with your right hand to feel in the left armpit.
  4. Repeat on the other side.
  5. Check both sides for lumps or thickenings above and below your collarbone.
  6. With soapy hands, raise one arm behind your head to spread out the breast tissue.
  7. Use the flat part of your fingers from the other hand to press gently into the breast.
  8. Follow an up-and-down pattern, move from bra line to collarbone.
  9. Continue the pattern until you have covered the entire breast.
  10. Repeat on the other side.

Lying down:

  1. Lie down and place a small pillow or folded towel under your right shoulder.
  2. Put your right hand behind your head.
  3. Place your left hand on the upper portion of your right breast with fingers together and flat.
  4. Think of your breast as a face on a clock. Star at 12 o’clock and move toward 1 o’clock in small circular motions.
  5. Continue around the entire circle until you reach 12 o’clock again
  6. Keep fingers flat and in constant contact with your breast.
  7. When the circle is complete, move 1 inch toward the nipple and complete another circle around the clock
  8. Continue in this pattern until you’ve felt the entire breast.
  9. Make sure you feel the upper outer areas that extend into your armpit.
  10. Place your fingers flat and directly on top of your nipples.
  11. Feel beneath the nipples for any changes.
  12. Gently press your nipple inward. It should move easily.
  13. Repeat these steps on your other breast. Don’t forget to check the upper, outer area of the breast, nearest to the armpit.

Breast Lump Causes

To ease your mind here are the most common causes of breast lumps:

  • Breast cyst – soft and fluid-filled sacs
  • Milk cysts – sacs filled with milk that can occur during breast-feeding
  • Fat necrosis – damage tissue
  • Fibrocystic breasts – a condition where breast tissues feels lumpy in texture and is sometimes accompanied by pain
  • Fibroadenoma – non-cancerous rubbery l umps that move easily within breast tissue
  • Hamartoma – a benign tumor like growth
  • Intraductal papilloma – refers to a small, non-cancerous tumor in a milk duct
  • Lipoma – a slow-growing, non-cancerous, fatty lump
  • Mastitis – infection of the breast
  • Injury
  • Breast cancer

Breast Lump Treatment

If you have this condition you can try the following solution

  • Painkillers – paracetamol or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs NSAIDs
  • Tamoxifen, danazol or bromocriptine are very occasionally used to treat breast pain
  • Antibiotics to treat breast abscesses caused by bacterial infections

When to see a doctor:

Although breast lump can be normal and benign, you have to make an appointment for a breast lump evaluation if any of the following conditions apply.

  • The lump feels firm or fixed
  • The lump persists beyond 4-weeks
  • You notice skin changes on your breast like redness, crusting, dimpling or puckering
  • You have bloody or clear nipple discharge
  • You can feel enlarging lumps in your armpit
  • There is a change in the size, shape or contour of the breast
  • It is marble-like under the skin

Since breast lumps may be cancerous they should be evaluated within 3 to 7 days. Delaying for a week or so is not harmful unless there are signs of infections.

Usual symptoms of an infection are redness, swelling and/or discharge or pus. If you encounter any of this, you should see a doctor within 1 or 2 days.

3. Nipple Discharge

Nipple Discharge refers to any fluid that flows out of the nipple of the breast. This condition may also occur to non-pregnant or non-breastfeeding women.

In this case, one or both of your breasts may produce a nipple discharge either spontaneously or when squeezed. The discharge may look milky, clear, yellow, green, brown or bloody.

Non-milk discharge comes out of the nipple through the same opening that carries milk. The consistency of the discharge can vary, it can be thick, sticky, thin or watery.

Nipple Discharge Symptoms

If you experience any of these, your nipple discharge is not normal.

  • Bloody discharge
  • Comes from only one nipple
  • Comes out on its own without you squeezing or touching your nipple

Your nipple discharge is likely normal if

  • It comes out of both nipples
  • Happens when you squeeze your nipples

The discharge does not tell you whether it is normal or not. Also, the discharge can look milky, clear, yellow, green or brown.

Squeezing your nipple to check for discharge can only make it worse. Meanwhile, leaving it alone may make the discharge likely go away.

Nipple Discharge Causes

To help you better understand this condition, here are some of its possible causes:

  • Abscess
  • Birth control pills
  • Breast cancer
  • Breast-feeding
  • Breast infection
  • Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)
  • Endocrine disorders
  • Excessive breast stimulation
  • Fibrocystic breasts
  • Galactorrhea
  • Infection
  • Injury or trauma to the breast
  • Intraductal papilloma
  • Mammary duct ectasia
  • Medication use
  • Menstrual cycle hormone changes
  • Paget’s disease of the breast
  • Periductal mastitis
  • Pregnancy
  • Prolactinoma
  • Widening of milk ducts

Again, nipple discharge doesn’t mean harm all the time as there are cases when it’s normal. For instance, nipple discharge happens normally after during pregnancy, after breastfeeding or when stimulated or squeezed. This is also possible when the nipple is repeatedly chafed by your bra and during rigorous physical exercise like jogging.

Nipple Discharge Treatment

Once the cause of the nipple discharge is found, the doctor or nurse may recommend treatment that includes any of the following:

  • Need to change any medication that caused the discharge
  • Have lumps removed
  • Have all or some of the breast ducts removed
  • Receive creams to treat skin changes around the nipple

When to see a doctor:

In general, nipple discharge should not be a cause of concern. However, breast cancer is a possibility if you encounter any of the following:

  • You have a lump in your breast
  • Only one breast is affected
  • The discharge contains blood
  • The discharge is spontaneous and persistent
  • The discharge affects only a single duct
📌Again, nipple discharge is rarely a sign of breast cancer, but might be a sign of underlying condition that may require treatment. If you are still having menstrual period and your nipple discharge doesn’t resolve on its own after your next menstrual cycle, you should make an appointment with your doctor for an evaluation

If you have completed menopause and you are experiencing a spontaneous nipple discharge that involves one breast and a single duct, you also need to see a doctor for an evaluation.

Again, although benign in most cases, it is recommended that you check with a doctor when you encounter unexpected nipple discharge.

4. Cracked, Sore and Itchy Nipple (Nipple Dermatitis)

Nipple Dermatitis is characterized by itchiness or soreness of one or both nipples. This is another common problem among women that causes discomfort.

A number of women who breastfeed experiences nipple pain and irritation. However, this condition may happen to non-breastfeeding women too.

The nipple area is very sensitive to any changes in your body and to the environment. So any irritation can cause soreness that can be annoying and embarrassing.

When looking for potential treatment, you should be wary as some over-the-counter remedies may seem to do the trick. But they may also worsen the irritation due to the composition and addition of fragrances or preservatives.

Itchy and Sore Nipples Symptoms

  • Flaky or scaly skin on your nipple
  • Crusty, oozing or hardened skin resembling eczema on the nipple, areola or both
  • Itching
  • Redness
  • Tingling burning sensation
  • Straw-colored or bloody nipple discharge
  • Skin changes on the nipple or breast

Itchy and Sore Nipples Causes   

  • Infection -Can be bacterial (when nipple is damaged and pus can be seen ) or fungal (for breastfeeding moms a.k.a thrush)
  • Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis) – Red, itchy rash. Can be eased by natural moisture or by limiting the use of soap and gels with drying effects.
  • Contact Dermatitis – Is a condition that makes skin red or inflamed after contact with an allergen or an irritant which can be creams, gels, or soap.
  • Cracked and Dry Skin – This can cause itchiness.
  • Paget’s Disease – An itchy breast can be a symptom of a Paget’s disease a rare form of cancer. Its early symptoms can mimic nipple dermatitis. Other symptoms include: a flattened nipple, lump in the breast, discharge from the nipple, skin changes on the nipple or breast that makes it resemble like an orange peel.

Nipple Dermatitis Treatment

Since this area is very sensitive, you should be careful in choosing for a solution. Here are some treatments that you can try:

  • Coconut oil – When applied topically this can bring great relief from sore, cracked and itchy nipples. This also works for thrush. This is antifungal, antibacterial, anti -inflammatory and has antiviral properties. This is great skin softener and highly therapeutic.

Just apply this to irritated nipples. Don’t worry this is safe and healthy to your baby too.

  • Fresh Aloe Vera – This plant is popular for its healing properties especially for skin conditions, infections, burns and cuts. It contains over 75 nutrients and 20 different minerals. It has antibacterial properties too to keep infection at bay. It also speeds up wound recovery.

To use this, simply apply fresh gel to the irritated nipples as often as needed. Its cooling properties will bring immediate relief and healing.

  • Raw Apple Cider Vinegar – This contains potent antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties that make it so effective in healing a number of skin conditions including eczema and thrush.

To use this, mix 1 cup of ACV in 5 cups of filtered water. Wash the affected area with a clean cloth dipped in the mixture. This will help reduce swelling and will keep the infection from spreading.

When to see a doctor:

If the medication above does not work and your problem already persists for a few weeks, it is time to seek the help of a professional. It is important to rule out cancer. Also the doctor might be able to offer you a solution to end the irritation, itchiness and pain.

5. Inverted Nipples

Inverted Nipple is characterized by a nipple being pulled inward into the breast instead of pointing outward. This condition is also called nipple inversion, nipple retraction or invaginated nipple.

This condition can be permanent or temporary. There are cases when nipples are inverted some of the time but will pop out when stimulated or when there’s a change in the temperature.

There are also cases when the condition is permanent. The nipple is inverted no matter what the temperature is or not.

An inverted nipple is a common problem among women. Ten to 20 percent of women have inverted nipples. So, those who have this condition should not feel bad or shy about it.

Inverted Nipples Causes

  • Aging
  • Benign Breast Tumors
  • Breast Cyst
  • Breast Duct Ectasia
  • Congenital Anatomic Variant
  • Fibroadenoma
  • Infection
  • Intraductal Papilloma
  • Mastitis
  • Trauma

Inverted Nipple Treatment

In general, inverted nipples should not be a source of concern as it is not a health problem. If you want to change the appearance of your areola, you can get a surgery. However, you should know that the procedure is for aesthetics purposes only.

If you want to solve your inverted nipple, you can try the following options.

#1 Hoffman Technique

  1. Place your thumbs on either side of your nipple. Be sure to place them at the base of the nipple, not outside the areola.
  2. Press firmly into your breast tissue.
  3. While still pressing down, gently pull your thumbs away from each other.
  4. Move your thumbs all around the nipple and repeat.

#2 Suction Devices

There are suction devices that promote the reversing of inverted nipples. Most can be work under clothing for extended periods of time.

These products are sold under a variety of names including nipple retractors, nipple extractors, shells and cups.

These devices work by pulling the nipple into a small cup. It stimulates the nipple and makes it protrude.

If you use this over time, it can help loosen the nipple tissue, which will make your nipples remain erect for longer periods of time.

Among the popular suctions that you can choose from are:

  • Avent Niplette
  • Pippetop Inverted Nipple Protractor
  • Medela SoftShells for Inverted Nipples
  • Supple Cups

When to see a doctor:

If your nipples are normal, but it starts to invert for no reason, you should check out with a doctor for evaluation. Most causes of nipple inversion are not a cause for concern, but occasionally this is the first sign of a breast cancer. New nipple inversion is usually evaluated with a breast examination and mammogram.

6. Duct Ectasia

Duct ectasia is a condition in which the lactiferous duct becomes blocked or clogged. This is the common cause of greenish discharge.

This condition is also called mammary duct ectasia or plasma cells mastitis. This occurs when a milk duct beneath nipple widens becoming blocked or clogged with a sticky substance and inflamed.

The complication of mammary duct ectasia are minor and often more bothersome than serious. These include nipple discharge, breast discomfort, infection and concern about breast cancer.

This condition is common among women over 50 years old.

Duct Ectasia Symptoms

  • A lump or thickening on the breast due to scarring or clogging of the ducts
  • Redness in breast, especially around the nipple region
  • Soreness of breasts
  • Inverted nipple
  • Sticky greenish or blackish discharge from the breasts. It can be thick or thin and sometimes dirty white

Duct Ectasia Causes

Experts cannot pin point the exact causes of mammary duct ectasia. However, some speculate that this condition is associated with the following:

  • Breast tissue changes due to aging – As one age, the composition of breast tissue changes from glandular to mostly fatty in a process called involution. This can sometimes lead to the blockage of milk duct and inflammation associated with mammary duct.
  • Smoking – Cigarette smoking is associated with the widening of milk ducts that can lead to inflammation and possibly mammary duct ectasia.
  • Nipple Inversion – This condition may obstruct milk ducts causing inflammation and infection.

Duct Ectasia Treatment

Duct ectasia can sometimes get better without any treatment. However, if you need to take action you can try the following:

  • Warm compress – to give relief from pain
  • Antibiotics – helps in curing the infection
  • Paracetamol and other pain reliever medication to alleviate agony
  • Surgery – if the nipples keep on secreting sticky discharge

When to see a doctor:

If you see any changes in your breasts like a new breast lump, spontaneous nipple discharge or inverted nipple, it is best to see a doctor. However, you should note that this condition does not increase your risk from cancer.

7. Mastitis

Mastitis is another condition that causes your breasts to become painful and inflamed. This is most common among breastfeeding moms usually within the first three months after giving birth.

If the condition occurs during breastfeeding, the doctors may refer to this as lactation mastitis or puerperal mastitis. For non-breastfeeding moms it may be called periductal mastitis.

In general, this condition usually starts as a painful area in one breast. It may be red or warm to the touch or both. You may also experience fever, chills and body aches. I’ll give you the symptoms of mastitis

Mastitis Symptoms

Women who have this condition experience the following

  • Breast tenderness or warmth to the touch
  • Generally feeling ill / malaise
  • Breast swelling
  • Pain or burning sensation continuously or while breastfeeding
  • Skin redness, often in a wedge-shaped pattern
  • Fever of 101 F (38.3 C) or greater

Mastitis Causes

This condition can be caused by the following:

  • Engorgement
  • Plugged milk ducts
  • Milk

Mastitis Treatment

To resolve mastitis you can do the following

#1 Take Antibiotics

This will help tackle the infection. However, this might pass to the baby which may result in runny stools. The child may also become restless. However, according to the doctor, the effects will disappear as soon as the treatment is over.

#2 Treat the blocked duct

Here are some ways that you can do to resolve a blocked duck.

  • Make sure that you are drinking plenty of liquids
  • Take enough rest
  • Take acetaminophen for pain and fever. If you are breastfeeding do not take aspirin.
  • Feed the baby more frequently. If you cannot feed your baby more often, then expressing milk can be helpful.
  • When breastfeeding, start with the affected area to ensure that it is drained more regularly.
  • After a feed, gently express any leftover milk
  • Ask a doctor or nurse if the baby is attaching to the breast properly
  • Try different feeding positions until you find one that is more effective in draining the breast
  • Warm the breast with a heated compress before feeding, this can sometimes help the baby get the milk out easier
  • Use stroking techniques to help with milk flow
  • Wear loose-fitting clothes until the mastitis is gone and avoid tight-fitting clothes thereafter

When to see a doctor

Usually, mastitis occurs in the first several weeks of breastfeeding. It can happen anytime during breastfeeding. This tends to affect one breast only.

However, you need to check with a doctor if you experience any of the following

  • Flu-like symptoms for several hours
  • Swollen, painful lymph nodes in the armpit next to the affected breasts
  • Fast heart rate
  • Tenderness and redness in the area of your breast

Conclusion

If you are experiencing  any breast problems, you should know when to worry and when not to because it is not easy to be anxious about something that is not worth it. At the same time, it is not healthy to ignore symptoms that are already hinting about a serious health condition.

📌 This article aims to help you understand the most common breast problems that women usually experience. If you have any questions or additional information, please feel free to reach out to us.

Other Sources: 

Breast Augmentation Procedure, Breast Reduction Cream, Best Nipple Cream, Breast Enlargement Bra

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