Breast Pain and Your Menstrual Period

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Many women take it as an article of faith: If they're feeling pain in one or both of their breasts, their menstrual cycle is about to begin.

Most of the time, they're right.

Cyclical breast pain refers to breast pain that comes and goes with a menstrual cycle. While it's very common, the exact cause is unknown.

Physicians and researchers suspect the pain is related to the rise and fall of hormones during a menstrual cycle.

This article reviews what you should know about cyclical breast pain, including some of its specific symptoms. Medication and vitamin supplements may help ease the discomfort, but several self-care steps may be the biggest help of all.

breast pain and your period

Verywell / Hilary Allison

Symptoms

Cyclical breast pain is one of two types of breast pain, commonly referred to as mastalgia. The other type is noncyclic breast pain. Pain associated with the latter type may or may not start in the breast; the pain could start in nearby muscles and spread to the breast.

Besides aches or pains, symptoms of cyclical breast pain can include breast tenderness, swelling, and tingling in one or both breasts.

These feelings may intensify just before menstruation and then gradually taper off during and after a period. For some women, breast pain lasts throughout their cycle and varies in intensity.

Women may have pain in one breast or both. But many women feel pain that is much worse in one breast over the other. And as women get older, the pain occurs less regularly and stops at menopause.

Perhaps you've been told that your breasts are fibrocystic, which means you have noncancerous changes that give your breasts a lumpy or rope-like texture. If so, you may notice the formation of small bumps on one or both breasts during your period.

Causes

Your levels of estrogen and progesterone normally fluctuate during your menstrual cycle. These important hormones prepare your breasts and reproductive system for potential pregnancy.

The tissues in your breasts respond to these hormones and are believed to be responsible for cyclical breast pain.

Cyclical breast pain is typically not a symptom of breast cancer, especially if there are no other associated symptoms. Breast cancer symptoms often, but not always, include the discovery of a lump in a breast or the underarm, breast thickening or swelling, and nipple discharge.

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

Try Not To Be Fearful

Most of the time, breast pain is not associated with breast cancer, even when the pain is noncyclical. A large study found that of women who sought medical care for breast pain, only 0.2% had breast cancer.

Diagnosis

If you’re worried about monthly breast pain and you’re not sure whether it’s related to your menstrual period, try keeping a breast pain chart. Rating the pain's severity, as well as when it begins and ends, can help clarify whether your breast pain is cyclical and narrow down the potential causes.

Breast pain can significantly affect your quality of life. Seeing your healthcare provider is a good idea both for a proper diagnosis and to learn more about managing the discomfort.

Your healthcare provider 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).

Having a family history of breast cancer increases the risk. Still, it’s important to remember that most women who develop breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease.

Treatment Options

The first step in treating your cyclical breast pain is to acknowledge that it's real and disruptive to you. Some women fear they are being oversensitive by complaining about something that other women consider normal.

Discuss your options with your trusted healthcare provider. You may find relief in some unexpected places.

Vitamins and Dietary Supplements

A few of the alternative treatments that have been evaluated to some degree include evening primrose oil (gamolenic acid), vitex agnus-castus (also known as chasteberry), vitamin E, and vitamin B6.

A 2018 double-blinded randomized controlled study looked at the ability of chamomile drops to improve cyclical breast pain.

The supplement was found to be safe, well tolerated, and effective at reducing moderate cyclical breast pain.

But look before you leap—and consult your healthcare provider first. They may seem harmless, but herbs and vitamins could interact with other drugs you're taking.

Prescription Medications

Prescription medications that can be helpful include the topical anti-inflammatory medication Topricin (diclofenac).

For severe breast pain related to periods, other options include Parlodel (bromocriptine), tamoxifen, or Danazol (danacrine).

Some combinations of birth control pills may also help reduce menstrual-related breast pain. Work closely with your healthcare provider to choose the one that works best for you based on your particular symptoms.

Keep in mind that getting relief often involves trial and error. It's common for women to try several different types of pills before finding the one that works best for them.

Self-Care

Some tips can relieve your breast pain during your menstrual period:

  • De-stress. Lower your stress level by exercising, soaking in a tub, or doing simple breathing exercises. Aromatherapy may also help reduce stress, which in turn can minimize your breast pain.
  • 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. Fill the rest of your plate with vegetables, fruits, and healthy whole grains.
  • Limit caffeinated beverages: Anecdotal evidence suggests that caffeine can aggravate cyclical breast pain. Limiting your intake of caffeine—in coffee, tea, soft drinks, and even chocolate—is at least worth a try.
  • Reduce added salt: Salt leads to water retention, which can increase the pressure on your breasts.
  • Slim down: Even a 2- or 3-pound weight loss can help reduce breast pain.
  • Take pain relievers: Consider an anti-inflammatory medication such as Advil (ibuprofen), which can also help relieve menstrual cramps.
  • Try a new undergarment. A support bra may reduce the bounce and sway of breast tissue during your menstrual period and lessen breast pain. Or, you may find more comfort in a light camisole.
  • Use hot or cold packs: Apply a hot or cold pack for 20 minutes at a time. Make sure to put a towel between your skin and the pack so that you don't irritate your breast tissue.

Cyclical breast pain is not associated with poor lifestyle and dietary habits.

Summary

Cyclical breast pain refers to breast pain that comes and goes with the menstrual cycle. Besides aches or pains, you may experience breast tenderness, swelling, and tingling in one or both breasts. Often, these symptoms intensify just before menstruation and then gradually taper off during and after a period.

Several self-care tips may make the situation more bearable for you. If not, see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis and other treatment options.

A Word From Verywell

Pain thresholds vary from one woman to another. So it's useless to compare yourself to someone who appears to "tough out" her breast pain every month. Focus on yourself instead.

If breast pain is limiting your activities, and especially if it’s severe, see your healthcare provider as soon as possible. You want the peace of mind in knowing that it's nothing serious. Plenty of treatments are available to help you feel better.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When should I worry about breast pain?

    Cyclical breast pain is usually not a sign of breast cancer. If you have no other symptoms other than pain, the chances of breast cancer are extremely low. On the other hand, if your breast pain is associated a new lump, breast swelling, skin changes, nipple discharge, or other nipple changes, see your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

  • Can a missed period cause breast pain?

    It depends on why you missed your period. Breast pain can be an early sign of pregnancy. Also, certain birth control medications can be associated with breast pain. If you develop irregular periods, it's a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider and discuss whether testing is necessary.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Breast pain (mastalgia).

  2. Jokich PM, Bailey L, D’Orsi C, et al. ACR appropriateness criteria® breast pain. J Am Coll Radiol. 2017;14(5S):S25-S33. doi:10.1016/j.jacr.2017.01.028

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What are the symptoms of breast cancer?

  4. Walker S, Hyde C, Hamilton W. Risk of breast cancer in symptomatic women in primary care: A case-control study using electronic recordsBr J Gen Pract. 2014;64(629):e788-e793. doi:10.3399/bjgp14X682873

  5. Brewer HR, Jones ME, Schoemaker MJ, Ashworth A, Swerdlow AJ. Family history and risk of breast cancer: An analysis accounting for family structureBreast Cancer Res Treat. 2017;165(1):193–200. doi:10.1007/s10549-017-4325-2

  6. Saghafi N, Rhkhshandeh H, Pourmoghadam N, et al. Effectiveness of Matricaria chamomilla (chamomile) extract on pain control of cyclic mastalgia: a double-blind randomised controlled trial. J Obstet Gynaecol. 2018;38(1):81-84. doi:10.1080/01443615.2017.1322045

  7. Nirhale DS, Dhende M, Shingade P, Chavan S, Sonawane T, Kulkarni G. A study on clinical profile and management of mastalgia. Intl Surg J. 2018;5(5):1889. doi:10.18203/2349-2902.isj20181604

  8. International Association for Research on Cancer. Red and processed meat.

  9. Idiz C, Cakir C, Ulusoy AL, Idiz UO. The role of nutrition in women with benign cyclic mastalgia: a case-control study. Euro J Breast Health. 2018;14(3):156-159. doi:10.5152/ejbh.2018.3827

Additional Reading

By Rony Kampalath, MD
Rony Kampalath, MD, is board-certified in diagnostic radiology and previously worked as a primary care physician. He is an assistant professor at the University of California at Irvine Medical Center, where he also practices. Within the practice of radiology, he specializes in abdominal imaging.

Originally written by
Pam Stephan
Pam Stephan is a breast cancer survivor.
Learn about our editorial process