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Breast Tenderness Before Period: Why It Happens and How to Reduce the Pain

One of the more common (and often annoying) PMS symptoms is breast tenderness or breast pain. This sore and dull ache can begin around two weeks before your period and can be a cause for daily discomfort and unease. But worry not - this article is an in-depth exploration of what causes breast tenderness before period, its symptoms, and the various ways to treat it. Read on!
Two melons in bra

Types of breast pain

Cyclic breast pain

Also called cyclic mastalgia, this type of breast pain is linked to our menstrual cycle, and the way in which our reproductive hormone levels change. It is related to the monthly rise and fall in the estrogen and progesterone levels, making this pain appear and disappear cyclically. This kind of cyclical breast pain that occurs every month is rarely ever a symptom of breast cancer, and usually subsides on its own once menstruation begins.

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Non-cyclic breast pain

This type of breast pain is not linked to your menstrual cycle and does appear to grow or subside with your period. In such cases, the breast soreness can be constant or intermittent, and feels more like a tight, burning or sharp pain, instead of the dull ache and heaviness usually associated with cyclical pain. Non-cyclical breast pain usually affects on breast, and often in a localized area, instead of both breasts. If you are experiencing this type of a non-cyclical breast pain, consult your doctor for a mammary examination to find out possible underlying causes.

Symptoms of cyclical breast tenderness

If you notice the soreness in your breasts appearing and subsiding every month, then it is most probably cyclical breast pain. The following are the most common symptoms of cyclical breast pain:

Soreness and a dull pain in the upper and outer area of both breasts

  • A feeling of heavier or swollen breasts before period
  • Pain affects both breasts, and may often also spread to the armpits
  • The pain can range from mild and dull to severe in some cases
  • Usually begins around two weeks before menstruation and fades away at the start of your period.
girl is holding donuts near her breasts

What causes breast tenderness before period?

There are a number of possible causes of breast pain before period. If you’re wondering what hormone causes breast tenderness before period, you’ll find your answers below. From monthly hormonal fluctuations to the use of certain medications, there are many possible reasons for this condition. Let’s read about each of the possible causes in detail.

Hormonal fluctuations

Changes in hormone levels during your monthly cycle may be a possible reason for your cyclical breast pain and soreness, according to studies. Both these hormones fluctuate in levels each month. Estrogen levels rising up until ovulation, after which progesterone levels rise till the start of the period.

However, there is a research yet to be done to pinpoint the exact manner in which these changes cause sore breasts before period.

Cyclical changes in breast tissue (fibrocystic breast disease)

The hormone estrogen is responsible for the development of milk ducts – the tubes that carry the milk to the nipple. Progesterone helps develop milk lobules, the glands that produce milk.

The rise and fall of these hormones can stimulate the breasts, causing enlargement of the milk glands and ducts. This could sometimes lead to the formation of benign lumps or breast cysts, a condition called fibrocystic breast disease.

Medication

The use of certain medications, such as oral birth control pills, those used during hormonal replacement therapy (HRT), and infertility medicines, may lead to breast pain as well. This is because these medicines are hormonal in nature and have estrogen and progesterone, and may stimulate the swelling or soreness in the breast tissue.

Excess caffeine intake

If you’re a coffee addict, it may well be the reason behind your breast pain. A study conducted by the Duke University Medical Center found a clear link between high intake of caffeine and breast pain. The subjects of the study - who initially suffered from milk to extreme breast tenderness before period - were asked to reduce their intake of caffeine over a period of a year. The results demonstrated a noticeable reduction or, in some cases, an absence of breast pain in the women.

Other lifestyle causes

Studies have shown that eating a high fat diet could possibly be the cause of a worsen cyclical breast pain. In addition to this, chronic stress could also play a factor in causing breast tenderness.

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How to reduce breast pain before period?

While cyclical breast pain tends to subside on its own at the start of the period, there are a number of ways in which you can reduce or manage the breast soreness and pain. The following are some of the effective methods of doing so:

  • Reduce/eliminate caffeine intake: Since studies have linked high consumption of caffeine with breast pain, try reducing your daily coffee intake, or switch to decaf for effective results. This also means reducing your intake of all drinks and foods with caffeine, such a soft drinks, energy drinks, tea, chocolates etc.
  • Follow a low fat diet: Adopting a diet which is low in fat has been shown to reduce breast tenderness, according to research. Switch high fat foods with wholesome, high fibre alternatives such as whole grains and vegetables, along with complex carbohydrates.
  • Wear a firm, supportive bra: Go for a properly supportive bra, preferably fitted by a professional, to make sure your breasts receive adequate support. Since breast tissue is delicate,the right fitting bra helps minimize breast movement, reducing the pain associated with excess swaying of the breasts. Also, wearing a bra at night is not a good idea, as it can interfere with blood circulation and lymphatic drainage, causing inflammation and swelling of the breasts.
  • Relaxation techniques: Gentle exercise, simple breathing exercises, massage, aromatherapy and deep breathing have all been shown to reduce stress and anxiety. This could help ease high levels of anxiety that cause breast soreness.
  • Painkillers: Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen can provide temporary relief. However, long term of such medicines should be avoided, as it may cause liver damage. It is advised to discuss the use of painkillers for breast soreness with your doctor before proceeding.  
  • Change birth control method: If you’re taking birth control pills, its hormonal content may be causing breast soreness and pain. It is worth looking into other non-hormonal contraceptive options, in consultation with your doctor.
  • Reducing HRT dosage: If you’re currently undergoing hormone replacement therapy, it may be worthwhile to explore reducing the dosage of the hormones with your doctor, to alleviate breast pain.
  • Prescription medication: Medicines like Danazol and Bromocriptine had been used in the past the treat breast pain. However, their side effects, ranging from changes (hoarseness) in voice, abnormal body hair growth, weight gain to hot flushes and more, are considerably worse than the symptoms they are used to treat. It is advised to avoid usage of these medicines and go for alternative treatments in consultation with your doctor.
Doctor mammolog with stethoscope and young woman patient

Breast tenderness before period - early pregnancy sign?

Since breast pain often happens due to changes in estrogen and progesterone levels, it is a symptom that can both be seen during PMS, as well as in pregnancy. This could be confusing for many women, who may be wondering if their breast pain or discomfort can be an early sign of pregnancy. The key difference between breast tenderness before period vs early pregnancy sign is as follows:

  • Breast pain as a PMS symptom: In people where breast pain happens as part of their PMS symptoms, the pain usually is at its worse right before menstruation, and considerably subsides within 1-2 days of the start of the period.
  • Breast pain as a pregnancy symptom: In women whose breast pain is a symptom of pregnancy, the soreness and heaviness persists for much longer and doesn’t seem to subside periodically like PMS symptoms do. The pain can go on for months, sometimes even until delivery. It is often accompanied by sore and stinging nipples, and the development of blue veins near the breast surface.

Conclusion

While breast pain and soreness before period is usually due to the body’s natural hormonal fluctuations and subsides once period begins, it could still cause considerable discomfort to women. Other factors such as excess caffeine, stress, taking hormonal medicines and birth control pills, are other possible causes of breast pain before period. Wearing a well-fitting bra, reducing caffeine, having a low fat, high fiber diet are among ways to reduce its severity.

It is important to note that if your breast pain persists for months and does not seem to be of a monthly, cyclic nature, it is strongly advised to consult your doctor to find out the possible reasons and examine the breasts for underlying causes.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2943772/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3297211
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2927749
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9731849
https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/breast_health/mastalgia_breast_pain_85,P00154
https://www.webmd.com/women/guide/why-do-my-breasts-hurt
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/breast-pain/symptoms-causes/syc-20350423
https://www.healthline.com/health/breast-premenstrual-tenderness-and-swelling#when-to-call-your-doctor
https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/breast-pain-not-just-a-premenopausal-complaint
https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323122.php

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