Breast Pain and Your Menstrual Period

Woman holding her head on bed due to breast pain with her period
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In younger women, breast pain is often linked to one's menstrual cycle. This kind of pain is called cyclical breast pain. The hormones that rise and fall during menstruation can cause breast tenderness, swelling, aches, and even tingling in your breast.

If your breasts are fibrocystic (noncancerous changes that give your breasts a lumpy or rope-like texture), you'll also notice lumps and bumps more easily during your menstrual period.

 What should you know about this pain and what can help make it better?

Causes

Your monthly menstrual cycle is determined by fluctuations in levels of estrogen and progesterone. These important hormones prepare your breasts and reproductive system for potential pregnancy. Sensations of breast tenderness may come from breast lobes and breast ducts enlarging around the time of ovulation.

Breast pain may be worse just before menstruation, and then gradually taper off during and after your period. For some women, breast pain persists constantly but varies in intensity as her cycle progresses. Cyclical breast pain is not a symptom of breast cancer. Most of the time, breast pain is not associated with breast cancer even when it is noncyclical, and a large study found that of women who sought medical care for breast pain, only 0.2 percent had breast cancer.

Breast cysts, fibrocystic changes, and breast fibroadenomas may also cause fluctuating pain, even though all of these are benign breast conditions. 

Diagnosis

If you're worried about monthly breast pain and you're not sure whether or not it's related to your menstrual period, try keeping a breast pain chart. This chart will help clarify whether your breast pain is truly cyclical (vs. noncyclical), and narrow down the potential causes.

Breast pain can significantly impact quality of life, and seeing your doctor is a good idea both for a proper diagnosis, and to learn more about managing the discomfort. Your doctor may conduct a clinical breast exam, a mammogram, and/or an ultrasound study or MRI (if you have an increased risk of developing breast cancer).

While most often painless, breast cancer can be painful, and breast cancer in young women, though less common than in older women, does occur. Having a family history increases the risk, but it's important to remember that most women who develop breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease.

Treatment Options

Your doctor may suggest using ibuprofen, as well as conservative treatments such as stress reduction.

Alternative treatments that have been evaluated to some degree include evening primrose oil (gamolenic acid), vitamin E, and vitamin B6.

Prescription medications which can be helpful include the topical anti-inflammatory medication Topricin (diclofenac). Some combination birth control pills may also help reduce menstrual-related breast pain.

For severe breast pain (mastalgia) related to periods, other options include the medications Parlodel (bromocriptine), or Danacrine (danazol).

Self-Help

Here are some tips you can try to help prevent and relieve breast pain during your menstrual period.

Wear a Support Bra

You may try wearing a properly fitting support bra, as reducing the bounce and sway of breast tissue during your menstrual period sometimes prevents or reduces breast pain. You may want to have a professional fitting to make sure you get the right type of bra with a proper fit. 

Consider Camisoles

Some women, especially those who are smaller breasted, might feel better without a bra. Some camisoles provide support without the restriction of a full bra. A sports bra may also be more comfortable than a traditional bra.

Hot or Cold Packs

Applying hot or cold packs may help, but don't apply these directly to your breast skin. Use a towel or soft cloth between you and the pack, and apply a hot or cold pack for only 20 minutes at a time.

Pain Relievers

For more relief, you may consider taking an antiinflammatory medication such as Advil (ibuprofen), which can also help relieve menstrual cramps. It's best to avoid products such as Exedrine migraine that contain caffeine, as caffeine can aggravate breast pain for some women.

Limit Caffeinated Beverages

Studies have been mixed over the role of caffeine in cyclical breast pain, but many women will tell you this can make a big difference. Keep in mind that caffeine is found not only in many coffees, teas, and soft drinks but in chocolate.

Hydrate and Reduce Salt

Drink more water and cut back on salt to limit water retention.

Slim Down

Drop some pounds if you are overweight. You may be surprised that just a little weight loss, sometimes as little as 2 to 3 pounds, can reduce breast pain. Many people find that reducing carbs and intermittent fasting (not eating for 12 to 14 hours each day, such as fasting from after dinner to breakfast) can help those pounds come off easier.

Eat Right

The International Association for Research on cancer recommends thinking of meat as a condiment and limiting the room it takes up on your plate to one-third or less. The rest of your plate should be filled with vegetables, fruits, and healthy whole grains.

Consider Herbs and/or Vitamins

Some people have found dietary supplements such as evening primrose oil, vitamin E, or vitamin B6 helpful in reducing breast pain, but always talk to your doctor first. Be aware that there is only mild scientific evidence for these herbal remedies. These herbs do not appear to be harmful for people who are otherwise healthy, but may interact with other drugs and can cause some side effects. If your physician is unfamiliar with these therapies, you may wish to consider seeing an integrative physician, one who is trained in both conventional (allopathic medicine) medicine and complementary/alternative medicine.

Destress Yourself

Stress can amplify pain, including breast pain associated with the menstrual cycle. Lower your stress levels by doing gentle exercise, taking a tub soak, or using some simple breathing exercises. Aromatherapy may also help bring down stress, which may lower your breast pain. Taking the time to develop a stress reduction plan may have lasting benefits not only with breast pain, but every aspect of your life.

Bottom Line

Menstrual cycle related breast pain can significantly reduce your quality of life, but often times conservative measures can lessen your pain. If your pain is limiting your activities, make sure to see your doctor, and definitely see your doctor if your pain is severe. There are prescription treatments available and it's also important to make sure that your pain is "normal" breast pain.

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