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What are the Common Causes of Arm and Breast Pain?

By Jessica F. Black
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Although one of the most common causes of arm and breast pain is lymphedema, there are many other causes, including noncyclical breast pain, pain associated with menstrual cycles, and problems caused by swollen armpits. The breasts are the primary source of pain in most of these problems, which then travels to the arm and surrounding areas. A variety of treatments are available depending on the diagnosis, which should be made by a medical professional. This type of pain is typically not listed as a cancer symptom, but patients should report pain and discomfort in that particular area to a healthcare professional.

Lymphedema is an abundance of lymphatic fluid that typically causes swelling in the arms as well as other body parts. There are a number of causes for it, including certain types of breast surgery. The most common symptom is swelling associated with pain and sensitivity in the arms and surrounding areas. Treatment varies, depending on the initial cause of the disorder and may involve draining the affected location, using compression bandages, or taking antibiotics in cases caused by infection. In less severe cases, the arm and breast pain resolves itself early during treatment.

A non-cyclical condition can sometimes originate in muscles and joints causing arm and breast pain. These symptoms are unrelated to the menstrual cycle. A medical professional usually diagnoses the problem with a physical examination and review of the individual's medical history. Anti-inflammatory drugs are typically prescribed if the pain does not subside on its own.

The change of hormones before and during the menstrual cycle can also cause pain, but this discomfort is primarily located under the arm due to the pain experienced throughout the breasts. This pain is often accompanied by other symptoms, such as cramping, bloating, and other aches and pains. This condition is cyclical and can usually be treated with over-the-counter medications.

Swollen armpits are usually caused by an infection of the lymph nodes in this particular area, which can cause pain and may affect other areas of the body if the infection spreads. Antibiotics usually treat a bacterial infection and will gradually reduce discomfort. Swelling usually requires medical attention to determine that the lymph nodes are the cause. Another cause that could attribute to the swelling in the underarms and be relatively more hazardous is blood cancer, which, due to its severity, can be difficult to treat. Abnormal swelling, pain, or discomfort should be reported immediately in order to receive an early diagnosis.

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Discussion Comments

By fify — On Aug 21, 2014

I think some women make the mistake of confusing breast tenderness with breast pain. Breast tenderness is something we all experience, especially during the time of the month. It's a result of hormonal changes and goes away once menstruation is completed. There is no need to worry about this symptom if it's mild and coincides with menstruation then disappears.

By bluedolphin — On Aug 20, 2014

@burcinc-- I'm not a doctor but I've heard that breast cancer can cause, arm, shoulder and breast pain. It makes sense actually since these are all close to one another and there are nerves traveling through the same areas.

It's not a good idea to jump to any conclusions though. If anyone is experiencing these symptoms, she should see a doctor to get to the bottom of it. It may just be an injury. When nerves in one area are affected by inflammation, the pain can travel to other areas.

So I suggest staying calm and just seeing a doctor about it. One should not try to diagnose oneself by reading things online. But one should not ignore these symptoms either. Regardless of what the cause is, the sooner it is diagnosed and treated, the better. This is what I think about this topic.

By burcinc — On Aug 19, 2014

What about cancer or heart attack? Can arm and breast pain be signs of either of these conditions? Has anyone here experienced something like this? If so, can you share your experience?

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