Why are my breasts so sore? Everything about breast pain
There are several terms to describe benign breast pains. ‘Mastalgia’ and ‘mastodynia’ describe general breast pains whereas ‘fibrocystic’ breasts describe painful or hard breasts that feel lumpy or rope-like to the touch (. Most troubles happen when you’re menstruating and, in rare cases, ovulating. Based on that information it’s probably no surprise that your hormonal balance plays a large role in causing these pains. A few weeks before the start of your period, your estrogen level - the hormone that stimulates growth of your milk ducts and breast tissue - rises, which could even make your breasts grow in size. Right before the start of your period your progesterone levels start to rise. This causes a swelling of your milk ducts.
72% of all women experience breast sensitivity during menstruation
Hormonal imbalance can cause sensitive or even painful breasts. At least 72% of all women experience breast sensitivity during menstruation. Pain levels vary between a little sensitive to outright painful. Some people have to wear a bra to bed just to make the pain a little more bearable and for other people it’s even worse. Their pain is chronic, and a nicely fitted bra doesn’t even begin to fix the problem.
To the doctor
If you’re experiencing breast pains it’s always smart to call your GP. Once there, the doctor will probably check whether the pain is chronic, cyclical or non-cyclical. Do you only experience the pain around the time of your menstruation and/or ovulation? You’re probably dealing with cyclical breast pain. The premenstrual pain symptoms one to four weeks before you start menstruating and the symptoms are generally characterized by one or more lumpy (nodular) swellings in the outer or upper area of the chest. Sometimes the pain radiates into the armpit or upper arm. If your pain is non-cyclical, it means that your symptoms are unrelated to your hormonal balance and can occur even after your menopause (just when we thought it was over). In this case the pain is pretty easy to locate but you can’t feel the spot like you can with cyclical pain. Once your GP has established whether the pain is cyclical or not, they will probably check whether the pain is in one spot and if it sticks to those spots or not. Finally, they may ask if you’re taking medicine such as hormonal birth control, tamoxifen - a medicine that slows breast formation - and if breast cancer runs in the family. All of these elements could be related to your symptoms.
Younger women tend to have relatively dense breasts
Your doctor will also have to examine if the spot that hurts feels different from the rest of the breast tissue. If it feels different and firm or bumpy, the doctor will decide to use a mammogram to further examine the breast. A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast. The breast lays on a plate while another plate gets pressed on top of it, which sounds more painful than it is, though it’s not a walk in the park either. It will make it easier to see a lump. A mammogram tends to be more trustworthy for older women* than it is for younger women, because younger women with higher hormone levels tend to have relatively dense breasts in comparison to women (who are going through perimenopause) who went through menopause. This is related to the effect of hormones on breast tissue. Perimenopause causes a decline in hormones which results in a lack of growth stimulation of the milk ducts.
In most cases the pain gradually goes away. This could be explained by a change in your hormonal balance like a pregnancy (rise of hormone levels) or perimenopause (decline of progesterone). During perimenopause, you’re running out of functioning eggs, so you’ll be ovulating less as well. Your body will produce less progesterone while estrogen will have more influence on your body.
When to go to the doctor?
It’s important to keep a good eye on your breasts when you’re experiencing pain or discomfort. You only get two of them after all! Are they hurting, but your period is still weeks away or does only one of your girls hurt? That’s when you pick up the phone to call your doctor. You can also contact your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:
Your breasts look different from usual.
You can feel a small bump or bubble in your breast.
Your breast is red and feels hot to the touch.
You can see one (or more) dents in your breast.
Your nipple is flat or inverted.
You have (bloody) discharge seeping out of your nipple.
One of your breasts looks different from the other.
Your mammary gland is inflamed.
You have a cut or wound on your breast.
You have an ingrown (and inflamed) hair follicle.
The skin on your breast is dry and flaky.
Are you experiencing any symptoms that weren't listed above? That could mean it’s a reaction to external factors, like the following:
All clogged up
When you’re breastfeeding or recently stopped breastfeeding there’s a chance you might get a clogged milk duct. It’s even possible for younger women who haven’t given birth before to get a blocked milk duct. Painful and hard areas will appear on your breast. Fortunately, it’s easy to fix the blockage with antibiotics.
There’s quite a large chance that you’re wearing the wrong size of bra. Wearing the wrong size doesn’t only result in that feeling of relief when you take it off at the end of the day, it also results in your boobs not getting the support they need (not the kind of support you can get from friends or a glass of wine). If your bra is too tight your breasts won’t have any wiggle space and if it’s too loose your boobs will flop all over the place. This familiar to you? Head on over to the closest lingerie store and get your girls measured by a pro.
Coffee is (not) always a good idea
Drinking coffee (anything that contains methylxanthines) is great when you’re meeting up with friends at a cafe, but it could also cause inflammation. If you have breast pains it might be a good decision to go for a decaf next time you’re chatting with friends over a good cup of coffee. It hasn’t been proven, but it’s worth a try.
If you’re still unsure what the pain in your breasts means, call your doctor or gynecologist. It’s better to be safe than sorry.