Breast Problems in Women

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Breast lumps, pain, discharge or skin problems can be a sign of a minor problem or something more serious, so it's important to pay attention to any changes. Follow this chart for more information about breast problems.

SYMPTOMS DIAGNOSIS SELF-CARE
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1. Do you have swelling and tenderness in one or both breasts?


No

Go to Question 6.*

Yes

2. Have you given birth recently?


Yes

Soon after giving birth, your breasts could become engorged with milk, causing swelling and tenderness.

Breast pain along with redness, nipple discharge, itching or a fever, could be a sign of MASTITIS, an infection of a milk duct.

If your breasts are engorged, applying warm compresses to the breast and gently expressing some milk may help.

If you have an infection, talk to your doctor. He or she may give you an antibiotic.

No

3. Did the tenderness start recently, and do your breasts feel fuller and heavier?


Yes

You may be PREGNANT. Changes in the way your breasts feel, fatigue, nausea and frequent urination are some of the early signs of pregnancy.

Take an at-home pregnancy test. If it's positive, see your doctor.

No

4. Do the swelling and tenderness seem to occur at about the same time during every menstrual cycle?


No

Go to Question 6.*

Yes

5. Do you feel thickened, bumpy areas throughout your breast?


No

Your symptoms may be a result of HORMONAL CHANGES during your menstrual cycle. If you also have irritability, trouble sleeping and mood changes, you may have PREMENSTRUAL SYNDROME (PMS).

Over-the-counter medicines may help relieve bloating and tenderness. Ibuprofen or naproxen may be helpful for painful periods. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, sugary foods and excess salt. If your symptoms are severe, your doctor may prescribe a medicine to relieve them.


Yes

Your symptoms may be caused by FIBROCYSTIC DISEASE.

See your doctor. He or she may recommend that you avoid fatty foods and caffeine.


*6. Do you feel a tender lump, smaller than a penny, that wasn't there last month?


Yes

This lump may be a noncancerous GROWTH or CYST.

Carefully check this lump for a month. If it doesn't go away or it changes, see your doctor.

No

7. Do you feel a painless lump that is deep in your breast, possibly attached to your ribs?


Yes

A painless, firm lump may be a sign of a more serious problem, such as BREAST CANCER.

See your doctor as soon as possible.

No

8. Are you breastfeeding and having pain and cracking of the nipple?


Yes

Persistent pain and cracking in the nipple with breastfeeding could mean INFECTION, or it could mean that your baby is not latching properly.

Try a lanolin ointment on your nipple. If it doesn't help, see your doctor or a lactation consultant.

No

9. Have you noticed any breast changes such as skin dimpling or puckering, redness or scaling of the nipple or breast skin, or have you had any nipple discharge?


Yes

These changes may be a sign of a serious problem, such as BREAST CANCER.

See your doctor as soon as possible.

No

10. Do you have a sore on your breast that won't heal?


Yes

A nonhealing sore on the breast could be a sign of a serious problem.

See your doctor.

No

For more information, please talk to your doctor. If you think your problem is serious, call right away.

This tool has been reviewed by doctors and is for general educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for medical advice. The information in this tool should not be relied upon to make decisions about your health. Always consult your family doctor with questions about your individual condition(s) and/or circumstances. Source: American Academy of Family Physicians. Family Health & Medical Guide. Dallas: Word Publishing; 1996.

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