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Causes of Swollen Aching Breasts

author image Laura Candelaria
Laura Candelaria is a family nurse practitioner and assistant professor of nursing and nutritional science. Her experience includes neonatal and pediatric intensive-care, women's oncology, gynecology, obstetrics, lactation, nutrition and infertility. She has been published in "Nursing Spectrum," "Newsday" and on various websites.
Causes of Swollen Aching Breasts
Many women will experience swollen aching breasts. Photo Credit womans breasts image by Dale Mitchell from Fotolia.com

Breast discomfort in women is not all that uncommon, and not necessarily indicative of the presence of a particular disease or disorder, reports Breastdiscomfort.net. Many women experience breast swelling and discomfort at some point in their lives. Women should report any severe breast pain, swelling, or discomfort to their healthcare provider, especially if it is only present in one breast. There are some common causes of swollen aching breasts of which women should be aware.

Premenstrual Hormonal Changes

During the menstrual cycle, estrogen production increases and peaks just prior to mid-cycle, causing enlargement of the breast ducts, while progesterone changes lead to growth of the breast lobules (milk glands), reports Medline. This causes the breasts to swell, ache, and become tender. Some women may experience nipple tenderness during the premenstrual period. Women should consider limiting caffeine, foods high in fat, and excess salt during this time, as these foods may contribute to breast symptoms. According to Medline, the effectiveness of vitamin E, vitamin B6, and herbal preparations such as evening primrose oil are somewhat controversial and should be discussed with a health care provider.

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In early pregnancy, hormonal changes can cause breast swelling, discomfort, and tenderness. Hormonal breast changes may occur as early as 1 to 2 weeks following conception. The discomfort generally occurs during the first trimester, and may occur at, or soon after, childbirth, as the breasts start filling with milk, especially if they become swollen with milk, reports Breastdiscomfort.net. Women can also experience nipple tenderness during early pregnancy. The appearance of the areola (the darkened area around the nipple) may begin to appear larger in size and darker in color. Some women will notice the appearance of blue veins underneath the skin of their breasts. Women of child-bearing age who are experiencing breast tenderness may want to take a home pregnancy test if they have missed their periods.


Certain medications may cause swollen aching breasts. Oral contraceptives, the contraceptive patch, shot, ring, and the hormone-containing intrauterine device (IUD) may cause breast discomfort. These medications contain hormones that are similar to those in a woman's body. At increased levels, they may cause breast discomfort similar to the discomfort women may experience prior to their menstrual periods. There have also been reports of breast pain associated with prescribed antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants, such as fluoxetine (Prozac) and sertraline (Zoloft), reports the Mayo Clinic.

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