7 Ways to Manage Premenstrual Breast Pain

Do your breasts swell and become painful every month before your period?

As easy as it is to jump to conclusions and fear the worst, try not to panic. You may have a rather common condition known as cyclic mastalgia. Cyclic means it comes and goes in a predictable way; mastalgia is simply another way of saying breast pain.

This article explains the two types of mastalgia: cyclic and noncyclic. It also suggests natural and medical approaches to deal with it.

Woman rubbing her chest
Rob Gage / Getty images

Understanding Mastalgia

The exact cause of cyclic breast pain and swelling is not known, but it's likely related to the normal hormonal changes that occur during your menstrual cycle. Cyclic mastalgia affects women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, most often in the week before their period begins.

The pain often settles on the top and bottom regions of both breasts, although it can fan out to the underarm, too. Sometimes the breasts can feel tender and swollen at the same time. Most women with mastalgia have cyclic mastalgia.

The second type of mastalgia—noncyclic mastalgia—has no direct link to the menstrual cycle. In fact, the source of the pain may start somewhere else (like a nearby joint) but it's felt in the breast.

The pain could range from mild soreness to a sharp stabbing or burning sensation. Women who have already gone through menopause are more likely to encounter noncyclic mastalgia. An over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen often will help.

Even without knowing which type of mastalgia you may have, it's understandable to fear the worst: breast cancer. Keep in mind that breast pain usually doesn't lead to a diagnosis of breast cancer.

The more worrisome symptoms of cancer include:

  • A lump in the breast or underarm
  • Inflammation of a breast
  • A change in the size or shape of a breast
  • Irritation or dimpling of breast skin
  • Nipple discharge

If you have any of these symptoms, it's vital that you waste no time in contacting your healthcare provider. A breast exam may be recommended, especially if your symptoms and/or age and family history suggest you're at risk.

Chances are, your mastalgia will disappear as suddenly as it showed up.

Recap

Cyclic mastalgia comes and goes with your menstrual cycle. Noncyclic mastalgia isn't related to your period, and often occurs in women after menopause.

It's very unlikely that period-related pain and swelling in one or both breasts is a sign of breast cancer.

Natural Remedies

Try a few natural options if you experience breast pain in tandem with your periods and don't want to take medication:

  • Apply warm or cold compresses, as needed.
  • Wear a comfortable sports bra. If the volume of your breasts has increased from swelling, your usual bra may be too tight. The underwire especially may be uncomfortable. You may wish to choose a soft, supportive cup instead of forcing your swollen breasts into your usual bra.
  • Limit your caffeine intake. In general, scientists recommend that women with mastalgia limit their caffeine intake. It isn't clear how much caffeine it takes to set off cyclic breast pain. But the potential for pain increases with the amount of caffeine consumed.
  • Add flaxseed to your diet. Some evidence suggests that ground flaxseed can help reduce cyclic breast pain. Sprinkle flaxseed in smoothies, add it to baked goods before you pop them in the oven, or top your cereal with a spoonful.
  • Supplement with chaste berry. There is some evidence that chaste berry (Vitex agnus-castus) supplements can help reduce the symptoms of cyclic mastalgia. The typical dose of chaste berry used in studies was between 20 to 40 milligrams daily.
  • Take vitamin E. A good multivitamin might be a good option for you.
  • Try evening primrose oil. Keep in mind that some people have success with it while others do not.

Medical Treatment Options

If these natural tactics don't help, your healthcare provider may suggest:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Hormonal medications, such as Danocrine (danazol), Nolvadex (tamoxifen), or Parlodel (bromocriptine)

Be sure to tell your healthcare provider about any herbal supplements you may be taking. There is a chance they could interact with these medications.

Summary

Cyclic mastalgia is linked to a woman's menstrual cycle while noncyclic mastalgia is more likely to affect post-menopausal women. The pain can be so severe that it causes many women to leap to the conclusion that they have breast cancer. But this is usually not the case. There are several natural ways to ease the pain if you'd prefer to steer clear of medication.

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7 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.
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