The medical name for breast pain is mastalgia. It is more common during periods of hormone fluctuations, such as PMS, pregnancy, or menopause. These stages lead to an imbalance of progesterone and estrogen levels. Breast pain and tenderness varies depending on the individual; it can be a dull ache or a sharp pain in one or both breasts. Although breast pain and tenderness are normal occurrences, many women will want to know why they happen.
Changes in Hormone Levels
Fluctuating hormones are the most common cause of breast pain. Consequently, breast pain during the menstrual cycle is called cyclical mastalgia. As cyclical breast pain often disappears without medical help, it is recommended in most cases to use over-the-counter medication to relieve discomfort.
Birth control and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) are two types of prescriptions that can cause sore breasts, mainly due to the impact of the hormones contained within. In addition, antidepressants and psychiatric medications can increase the likelihood of breast tenderness. There are several alternative forms of contraception, so if this is the cause of breast pain and tenderness, talk to your doctor about trying out a different type.
There are several different types of breast lumps, and while most of them are benign and merely a result of monthly hormone fluctuations, they should always be checked by a medical practitioner to ensure they are not serious.
Among the most common types, fibroadenomas, are hard lumps, often found in younger women. These lumps often go away of their own accord, but they can be surgically removed. Other types of fluid-filled sacs within the breasts are referred to as cysts, and they are increasingly common in women of menopausal age.
Tea, coffee, soda, and chocolate are common dietary additions that are known to be possible reasons for breast pain and increased tenderness. This is because these normally contain caffeine, which causes a dilation of blood vessels and leads to tenderness. Eliminating all forms of caffeine at once can be difficult, but a gradual decrease in daily consumption should be possible. There are plenty of non-caffeinated drinks that are good substitutes, like decaf coffee or sparkling water.
A cause of non-cyclic breast pain (i.e., pain that is not associated with the menstrual cycle) is costochondritis, the inflammation of the ribs' junctions to the breastbone. This often occurs in the later years of a woman's life. Aging and posture are two reasons for the pain that begins - and radiates from - where the breastbone and ribs meet. A doctor should be consulted for medical treatment in cases of costochondritis. In addition, avoid any exercise that might exacerbate the condition and apply a hot cloth to the aggravated area.
Other Causes of Breast Pain
There are numerous other reasons for breast pain, such as breast abscesses (which are quite rare) or mastitis (which only affects breastfeeding women). Many women worry unduly about breast pain and are quick to self-diagnose and assume the worst, but breast pain is rarely the result of cancer or any other serious condition.
However, it is always best to consult a doctor for the quickest and surest answers. That being said, any physical changes in the breast should be monitored carefully by a doctor. Click here to find out more about breast pain treatments.
- Hutchinson, Susan M.D. "The Stages of a Woman's Life: Menstruation, Pregnancy, Nursing, Perimenopause, Menopause". November 2007.
- Love, Susan M.D. Menopause and Hormone Book. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2003.
- BMJ Group. "Menopause: What is it?" Patient Leaflet. 2007.