Pain is our body’s way of alerting us to a problem. Before you check for what is causing your left breast pain, you have to be certain it’s not linked to symptoms of heart attack. Symptoms of heart disease in women are often different from those in men. Pain in the breast may be mild, feel like a burning pain, or may simply feel like breast pain. Due to the often vague and subtle symptoms, women are more likely to ignore the signs, which can lead to a fatal heart attack. Symptoms of heart attack include:
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- Chest pain or pressure:
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in your neck, jaw, or left arm
- Dizziness or fainting
Origin of Left Breast Pain
After ruling out the possibility of heart attack, decide whether your pain is originating in your breast or instead related to other structures above or beneath your breast. Sometimes this can be hard to determine, and both breast and non-breast causes need to be considered.
The location in which the pain is felt does not essentially tell us the location of a medical problem. Some of the nerves in our body are very precise. For example, a sensation on your fingertip can usually be located very precisely.
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Other nerves are not as specific. They alert you to the general area of your body affected by some process, but they don’t locate the exact area of pain as perfectly.
Breast-Related Causes of Left-Sided Breast Pain
Let’s consider the possibility of breast-related causes of left-sided chest pain, and then discuss the chance that it may be cancer or due to a condition outside of the breast.
Injuries: You should expect bruises and aches in your breast if you had an injury there because your breasts are covered with sensitive, elastic skin that protects nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissues as well as ducts and lobes for producing breast milk. The pain may continue until the skin and underlying tissues have healed completely. Sometimes an injury to the breast heals with scar tissue, and this scar tissue can cause pain (fat necrosis which is a hard lump). Fat necrosis may make it difficult to differentiate from breast cancer, even on imaging tests such as a mammogram.
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Breast surgery: After any type of breast surgery whether it is a reconstruction, augmentation, or reduction, your breasts will hurt as incisions heal and scar tissue develops. This may cause intermittent pain even long after your surgery.
Milk duct conditions and infections: Several benign but painful conditions can develop inside your breast milk system. An abscess may occur under your nipple or areola. Milk ducts can become blocked and diseased, causing mastitis (a breast infection)
Hormonal causes: Hormone changes may also cause breast tenderness, especially when levels change during a woman’s menstrual cycle or while on hormones such as oral contraceptive pills, infertility treatments, or hormone replacement therapy. While hormonal changes often cause pain in both breasts, the pain may be felt in one breast more than the other.
Inflammation: If you suspect a breast infection (mastitis) or inflammation, it’s important to visit your family doctor or gynecologist. You may need to take antibiotics or other prescription medications to resolve the issue.
Lumps: Lumps or bumps in your breast that may or may not be related to your menstrual cycle, could cause pain. Consult with your doctor right away to get a proper diagnosis and treatment.
Left Breast Pain Due to Left Sided Breast Cancer
In some cases, breast cancer is painless in the early stages. There are exceptions to this rule, especially with cancers such as inflammatory breast cancer which is an aggressive form of breast cancer which usually begins with pain, redness, and swelling in the breast. Most people are not able to feel a discreet lump, and the cancer often resembles an infection. Early on, the only symptom may be pain in one breast or the other.
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Breast cancer in women occurs slightly more often on the left side than the right, although it occurs equally on both sides in men. While in general, breast lumps due to cancer are painless, there are many exceptions. While breast pain is more likely to be due to something other than breast cancer, roughly one in six women with breast cancer have breast pain during the 90 day period prior to diagnosis.
Non-Breast Related Causes of Left Breast Pain
Sometimes when pain happens, it is hard to tell exactly what hurts and where the pain is centered. When pain hits you on the left side of your chest, you may think it is left breast pain, but the pain may actually be beneath your left breast. Some non-breast related causes of pain that feel like it is in your breast include:
Chest wall pain: Below your breast there are chest wall muscles that may spasm during times of anxiety and stress, causing pain that may last just a few seconds or several days. Pain from tense chest wall muscles can occur on the left side only, or on the right. Likewise, if you have a pulled chest muscle or an injury to the left chest, aches and pains may result.
Cardiac causes: The pain associated with heart attacks in women is often vague and different than the symptoms in men. If you are uncertain about the origin of your pain and have any risk factors for heart disease, it may be better to play on the safe side and seek immediate medical attention. While the typical symptoms of a heart attack include a squeezing pain or pressure in the chest area, accompanied by lightheaded or sweating, some people—especially women—have only mild or atypical symptoms. These may include nausea and vomiting, feeling short of breath, or back or jaw pain.
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Esophageal causes: Since your esophagus runs below your left breast, gastroesophageal reflux disease can occasionally feel like left breast pain. Haital hernia, which is a related condition may cause similar symptoms. Pain related to the esophagus may feel more like a burning pain, and you may have associated symptoms of an acidic taste in your mouth. Other digestive system conditions such as liver disease may also, at times, cause pain that feels like it is coming from your breast.
Cartilage: Inflammation of the cartilage between your breastbone (sternum) and your ribs, something called costochondritis, may cause pain on the right or left side of the chest.
Fibromyalgia: Fibromyalgia may cause pain anywhere in your body, and chest pain is not uncommon. This can affect muscles, joints, and connective tissues, causing general or localized pain.
Pneumonia: Pneumonia can also cause left-sided pain since your lungs are in your chest area underneath your breasts.
Pulmonary emboli: Blood clots in your legs that break off and travel to your lungs, pulmonary emboli, may cause pain that feels like it is coming from your breast.
What to do if you have Left Breast Pain
There are a number of causes of left-sided breast pain, some more severe than others. The only way to know for sure is to seek medical attention.
Whether your left breast pain is due to a minor nuisance condition or a larger problem such as breast cancer or even heart disease, it’s vital to get an answer to the question of what is triggering your pain.
If you’ve seen your doctor but still lack an adequate explanation for your pain, call again. You may need to consider getting a second opinion if the pain lingers.