Breast Pain and Your Menstrual 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. 

Getting Treatment

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 make things easier in the event you need to consult a doctor about your breast pain. 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).

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.

  • Support Bra: Wear 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 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, try taking ibuprofen or aspirin, both of which contain no caffeine.
  • 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 need to. You may be surprised that just a little weight loss, sometimes as little as 2 to 3 pounds, can reduce breast pain.
  • Eat Right: Eat a high-fiber, low-fat diet that depends on whole grains and vegetables. Start thinking of meat as a condiment and use it sparingly. This is good for heart health, weight loss, and bone health, as well as breast and bowel health.
  • Consider herbs and/or vitamins: Consider taking evening primrose oil, vitamin E, or vitamin B6 to reduce breast pain and menopausal symptoms, 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, but may interact with other drugs and can cause some side effects.
  • Destress Yourself: 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.

    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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