General Health

Breast Swelling: When Does It Become A Concern?

Breasts comprise four main tissue structures- fat tissues, milk ducts, glands, and connective tissue. The fat tissue is subject to fluctuation in fluid volume. This can cause the breasts to swell, resulting in soreness or tenderness. In addition, other changes in the breast tissue can result in breast swelling.

What are the symptoms of breast swelling?

Breast swelling can cause noticeable changes. Veins may become prominent as the swelling bring them closer to the skin. Other symptoms are:-

  • Feeling of heaviness in the breasts
  • Tenderness or discomfort around the breast
  • Change in the texture of the breasts or the skin on and around the breasts

In some cases, the breasts will feel warmer. Hardened lumps in the breast may accompany breast swelling. While this is not always a concern, it can be a sign of breast cancer.

What causes breast swelling?

Premenstrual syndrome is one of the most common causes of breast swelling. Before the onset of periods, estrogen production increases and other changes occur. These hormonal changes can cause the breast ducts and milk glands to enlarge. It may also cause water retention, which in turn can increase breast swelling. Premenstrual syndrome-related symptoms tend to improve with the onset of periods.

Breast swelling can also be a part of breast cancer. There are different types of breast cancer. Inflammatory breast cancer can cause the breasts to swell as a result of blocked lymph vessels. The breast tissue may appear pitted, like an orange peel. Tumours in the breast can manifest as hard and painful lumps.

Other causes of breast swelling include:-

  • Consuming food items like caffeine or salt
  • Certain medicines like birth control pills, that contain estrogen
  • Changes that occur during pregnancy
  • Postpartum-related changes that occur after childbirth
  • Mastitis or infection of the breasts
  • Fibrocystic breast disease

When to consult a doctor?

Sudden breast changes should be discussed with the doctor. Although most premenstrual breast pain and swelling are harmless, these symptoms can be warning signs of infection or other medical conditions. One must inform the doctor if the following changes occur:-

  • Development of new breast lumps
  • Nipple discharge, especially if the discharge is brown or bloody
  • Breast pain that interferes with the ability to sleep or perform daily tasks.

Your doctor will perform a physical examination, including a breast exam and ask a few questions like:-

  • Any incidence of nipple discharge?
  • Any other symptoms that one may be experiencing.
  • Does breast pain and tenderness occur with each menstrual period?

At first, a physical examination is done. If any abnormalities are found, a mammogram may be advised. A mammogram is an ultrasound that uses X-rays to view the breast. A mammogram is usually recommended for those who are under 35 years old. During this procedure, the breast is placed between an X-ray plate and a plastic plate and compressed or flattened to create a clear image. In some cases, a biopsy may be advised.


Premenstrual breast tenderness and swelling are usually managed effectively with home care and medication when necessary. However, if lifestyle changes and medications do not help you feel better, this condition should be discussed with the health care provider.


Tuhina Mishra

Dr. Tuhina Mishra completed her MBBS from Grant Government Medical College in the year 2021. She has published several research papers in Indian and international journals. She is a recipient of the ICMR-STS award in the year 2019. She is a staunch believer in making research an integral part of the medical curriculum. She has volunteered in several NGOs, healthcare startups, and awareness programs.

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