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Ask Dr. Gott 7/9
Breast pain a mystery
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    DEAR DR. GOTT: I am a 77-year-old female. I suffer every day with pain behind the left side of my breast. I have had an EKG, two stress tests, an echocardiogram, a chest X-ray, a mammogram and a breathing test. All the chest and heart tests were normal, and the mammogram didn't show any signs of cancer. My doctor says the pain is caused by the chest-wall muscle and that perhaps a better bra would help. I do not have a large chest.
    If the muscle really is the cause, surely there is something I can take to reduce the pain. I feel like just a number with my doctor, and fear I may not be getting the best medical care because of it.
    Please give me your professional opinion: Is this just a muscle problem or something else?
    DEAR READER: You have had a battery of appropriate testing with normal results. Both your heart and breasts have been ruled out as possible causes. This still leaves your lungs and the surrounding muscles. You say you had a breathing test but do not mention which one. I recommend you have a pulmonology consult. This type of doctor specializes in breathing and lung disorders. If the pulmonologist rules out your lungs, your chest-wall muscles may be the culprit. If this is the case, you are probably suffering from a strain or chest wall syndrome (inflammation of the lining around the lungs). Without proper treatment, these conditions will heal on their own but often very slowly.
    In the meantime, take an anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen sodium (Aleve) for the pain. You may also want to try using a heating pad or cream such as Icy Hot or Castiva. If these don't help, try acupressure or acupuncture. Physical or water therapy may provide you with some pain relief, too.
    On a side note, if you believe your health care quality is lacking because of your physician, I urge you to find a new one. No one should feel like "just a number" at the doctor's office. I assume you are on Medicare. If this is the case, you have the option of seeing other primary-care physicians without making a commitment to them. Ask your family and friends about their doctors, or ask your local hospital whether they have a list of general, family and internal medicine doctors in your area. Make "get acquainted" visits with those who sound promising. After interviewing them, make your decision based on who best meets your needs. Then ask to have your file transferred from the old to the new.
    To give you related information, I am sending you a copy of my Health Report "Pulmonary Disease."
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