As women, our boobs go through a lot. From breast feeding to enduring bouncy workouts to feeling super sensitive around your period, it’s no wonder our boobs can sometimes hurt. And you’re definitely not alone. “Breast pain is extremely common, and it affects up to 70 percent of women,” says Barbara Dull, MD, breast surgeon with UNC REX Healthcare in Raleigh, N.C.
However, there are some red flags when it comes to aching boobs that mean you should go to the doctor. “If the breast pain continues for more than a few weeks, is focused in one spot of one breast, or you have other symptoms such as a lump in the area of pain, see a physician,” says Dull. “Ultimately, if someone has any concerns about their breast pain, they should see a physician.”
While many women experience breast pain, it can leave you wondering about why they’re hurting. Here are seven reasons your boobs may be aching.
You’re about to start your period
This type of breast pain is called cyclical breast pain. “Cyclical breast pain occurs right before one’s period starts and ends usually when the period begins, and is generally in both breasts,” says Swati Kulkarni, MD, breast surgeon at Northwestern Medicine. “It is caused by hormones estrogen, progesterone and prolactin.”
Unfortunately, the science behind exactly why your boobs get so sensitive around your period still isn’ totally nailed down, but it may be the breast tissue is overly sensitive to the hormones. To ease aches, take over the counter pain relievers, apply hot or warm compresses to the breasts, and wear a supportive bra, suggests Dull.
You have fibrocystic breast tissue
“Fibrocystic breast tissue is very common and composed of microscopic cysts and scar-like fibrous tissue,” says Dull. “It is thought that hormones contribute to breast pain, but the exact mechanism is unknown. There is an association with caffeine intake in women with fibrocystic breast tissue (once again not well understood) and breast pain, so limiting or avoiding caffeine can decrease breast pain.”
You have an injury
“Chest pain can be from the pectoral muscle, latissimus dorsi muscle or from the ribs as a result of exercise, injury, or recent episode of persistent coughing,” says Kulkarni. “Usually it is felt when you touch the area.”
You have breast cysts
“Cysts are fluid filled sacs in the breast tissue,” says Dull. “If they fill up with more fluid and enlarge, they can cause pressure on the surrounding breast tissue, leading to pain. If this occurs, a doctor can drain the cyst of fluid, relieving pain.”
You have larger breasts
There are ligaments in the breasts that work to give the breasts their shape and keep them from drooping,” says Dull. “The larger your breasts, the more stretch is put on these ligaments, leading to breast pain. It is important to wear supportive bras that have been fitted to you to minimize this type of pain.”
You have an infection
“Breast swelling and redness associated with breast pain could be a sign of an infection and usually requires an antibiotic for treatment,” says Dull. “An uncommon type of breast cancer called inflammatory breast cancer can sometimes mimic a breast infection and would need evaluation by a physician.”
You have breast cancer
The good news: If you are worried that your breast pain might mean you have breast cancer, there’s a very small chance that it is the case. “Breast pain rarely signifies the presence of breast cancer,” says Dull. “Less than 1 percent of women with breast pain will be found to have breast cancer.” But if you’re worried, meet with your doctor and ask for breast imaging tests to be performed.