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Breast Pain And Your Menstrual Period

Causes, Treatments, and Self-Help For Cyclical Breast Pain

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Updated June 02, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

In younger women, breast pain is often linked with your 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, you'll notice lumps and bumps more easily during your menstrual period.

Breast Pain And Menstruation

Your monthly menstrual cycle is determined by fluctuations in levels of estrogen and progesterone. These important hormones are preparing your breasts and reproductive system for a potential pregnancy. Sensations of breast tenderness may come from lobes and ducts enlarging around the time of ovulation. Breast pain may be the worst just before menstruation and 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.

Breast cysts, fibrocystic changes, and breast fibroadenomas may also cause fluctuating pain -- even though all these are benign breast conditions. Wearing the wrong size or shape of bra can bring on breast pain, and higher than normal stress levels can also affect breast tenderness and pain.

Getting Treatment For Menstrual Breast Pain

If you're worried about monthly breast pain and you're not sure it is related to your menstrual period, try keeping a breast pain chart. Use a chart to track your menstrual cycle as it compares to your breast pain levels. In case you need to consult a doctor about your breast pain, this chart will make it easier to show them what you are experiencing. You may have a clinical breast exam, and a mammogram or ultrasound study done, if needed.

Your doctor may suggest using ibuprofen, vitamin E, evening primrose oil (gamolenic acid), acupuncture, meditation, or stress reduction techniques. If your breast pain persists, there are prescription medications that may help. Danocrine (Danazol), bromocriptine, birth control pills, and even Tamoxifen have been prescribed to reduce cyclical breast pain. All of those medications affect hormone levels and will have some side effects.

Self-Help For Breast Pain During Menstruation

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, because reducing the bounce and sway of breast tissue during your menstrual period sometimes prevents or reduces breast pain. Try a sports bra, if you need to wear one for 24 hours during ongoing breast pain.

  • 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 or hormones.

  • Hydrate: Drink more water and avoid caffeinated beverages. While you're at it, cut back on salt, too -- both salt and caffeine can contribute to water retention.

  • Slim Down: Drop some pounds if you need to. You'll be doing your breasts and your whole body a big favor if you stick to a healthy body weight. Having a healthy weight lowers your risk of most kinds of cancer.

  • Eat Right: Use 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.

  • Take Vitamins: Taking a daily supplement of calcium (1,000mg to 1,500mg) and vitamin E gelcaps (800 IUs) may help.

  • Try Herbs: You may want to consider taking evening primrose oil or black cohosh (Remifemin®) to reduce breast pain and menopausal symptoms. Be aware that that is no strong scientific evidence for these herbal remedies, and that you should tell your doctor that you are using them. 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.

Sources:

Black Cohosh. Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Herbs, Vitamins, and Minerals. American Cancer Society. Last Revised: 11/03/2008.

Breast Pain; Pp. 77-85. Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book. Susan M. Love, M.D. Fifth Edition, 2010.

Breast Pain. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. National Institutes of Health. Last Updated: 12/31/2008.

Evening Primrose. Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Herbs, Vitamins, and Minerals. American Cancer Society. Last Revised: 11/28/2008.

Oral Contraceptives and Cancer Risk: Questions and Answers. National Cancer Institute. Reviewed: 05/04/2006.

The Menstruating Years. Pp. 17-18. Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book. Susan M. Love, M.D. Fifth Edition, 2010.

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