What Are Abdominal Pain and Breast Tenderness?

Abdominal pain is pain that originates between the chest and the pelvis. Abdominal pain can be cramp-like, achy, dull, or sharp. It is often called stomachache.

Breast tenderness is when your breasts feel painful or tender to the touch. Breast swelling or changes in the breast’s consistency may accompany the condition. The pain can be mild or so severe that it impedes daily activities.

What Causes Abdominal Pain and Breast Tenderness?

When abdominal pain and breast tenderness occur together, the cause is often related to changes in hormone levels.

Many women experience cramps in their lower abdomen when menstruating. During menstruation, hormone-like substances cause muscle contractions that help the uterus expel its lining. Some experts believe that severe contractions restrict blood flow to the uterus, increasing pain. 

Fluctuations in the hormones estrogen and progesterone can cause changes in breast sensation, as well as the breasts' consistency. The breasts may start to feel denser or rougher to the touch, particularly on the outer portion of the breasts. Hormonal fluctuations can also lead to abdominal discomfort and pain.

Examples of hormone-related causes of abdominal pain and breast tenderness include:

  • normal hormone changes related to menstruation
  • adolescent pregnancy
  • early pregnancy
  • endometriosis
  • taking estrogen-containing medication, such as birth control pills
  • tubal or ectopic pregnancy

Cysts and cancers of the ovaries can also lead to abdominal pain and breast tenderness, but these are more rare.

When to Seek Medical Help

Most abdominal pain and breast tenderness symptoms will subside after a menstrual period or with time. However, longer-lasting symptoms can signal the need to see a doctor, particularly if your abdominal pain increases or affects your ability to eat and drink.

Make an appointment to see your physician if you also have the following symptoms:

  • menstrual cramps that disrupt your life for multiple days
  • bloody or brown discharge from your nipple
  • changing lumps in your breast tissue
  • inability to sleep or perform daily tasks due to your symptoms
  • loss of control over bladder or bowel movements
  • one-sided lumps in your breast tissue

Your physician may recommend tests, such as a mammogram, to evaluate abnormalities in breast tissue.

(This information is a summary. Seek medical attention if you suspect you need urgent care.)

How Are Abdominal Pain and Breast Tenderness Treated?

Treatments for abdominal pain and breast tenderness will address the underlying causes. If you are taking birth control medications or hormones, your physician may recommend adjusting the hormone dosages to reduce breast tenderness.

Home Care

Eating a healthy diet, avoiding excess fat and salt, and drinking plenty of water can help reduce instances of abdominal discomfort. Fluids that contain caffeine, including coffee and tea, may contribute to bloating and should be avoided if possible.

Over-the-counter medications can help alleviate the pain of menstrual cramps. A warm bath or a heating pad placed on the lower abdomen can also help.

If your abdominal pain is causing nausea, drinking an electrolyte-containing beverage while eating soft, bland foods such as applesauce and crackers may help with symptoms.

How Can I Prevent Abdominal Pain and Breast Tenderness?

A healthy lifestyle can help to prevent some abdominal pain and breast tenderness symptoms. However, because these symptoms are often related to normal hormonal changes in the body, there are few preventive steps you can take. Consult a medical professional if your symptoms are severe.