Breast pain, also known as mastalgia, is a common complaint. Almost three-quarters of women will experience some type of breast tenderness during their lifetime. But the reasons behind this phenomenon vary.
In most cases, breast pain is linked to a hormonal shift. Many of us first experience breast pain during puberty. It can continue to be a regular occurrence throughout our fertile years, during menstrual cycles and pregnancy.
Perimenopause brings more dramatic hormone fluctuations. As a result, breast tenderness and soreness can increase. In some cases, it can continue after menopause too.
But what causes breast pain and soreness during and after menopause, and how can you find relief?
In this post, we’ll cover all of this and more.
What Are the Different Types of Breast Pain?
There are two main categories of breast pain; cyclical and non-cyclical.
Cyclical Breast Pain
Cyclical breast pain is hormonal. It is related to your menstrual cycle. Therefore, it usually only affects pre-menopausal and perimenopausal women. Around three-quarters of all breast pain is reported to be cyclical.
During the build-up to menopause (12 months after the date of your final period), cyclical breast pain is common. For most people, the symptoms are relatively mild, and they generally begin a few days before your period. But for some women, the pain and discomfort is more severe and can last for longer into your cycle.
What Causes Cyclical Breast Pain?
Cyclical breast pain is caused by fluctuations in the reproductive hormones estrogen and progesterone. These hormones stimulate the breast tissue and trigger the ducts and milk glands to swell. This can lead to tenderness that lasts several days.
Cyclical breast pain is usually alleviated after menopause when these reproductive hormones no longer trigger stimulation to the breast tissue. However, women using certain hormone therapies may still experience symptoms.
What Are the Symptoms of Cyclical Breast Pain?
The symptoms of cyclical breast pain can vary.
Cyclical breast pain usually affects both breasts at the same time. It is often accompanied by swelling. In most cases, this type of breast pain feels like a dull ache.
However, cyclical breast pain during perimenopause may feel different from the cyclical breast pain you’ve experienced in the past. It can present as a soreness, burning, sharp, shooting, or throbbing sensation.
Non-Cyclical Breast Pain
Non-cyclical breast pain is unrelated to the menstrual cycle.
It is more common in women over the age of 40, and it usually occurs during perimenopause or after menopause. However, it can affect women of all ages.
What Causes Non-Cyclical Breast Pain?
This type of breast pain isn’t brought on by hormonal shifts.
Breast pain without accompanying abnormalities, such as a lump or tumor, is often undetermined. However, there are a variety of potential causes, including:
An infection in the breast tissue is known as mastitis. It is most commonly found in breastfeeding women. However, it can occur at any time. The most common cause of mastitis is a chafing or superficial injury to the skin around the nipple. If the skin is damaged, bacteria can enter, causing infection. Symptoms of mastitis include redness, swelling, soreness, and an elevated temperature.
- Cysts in the breast tissue
Cysts are small sacs of fluid that form within the tissue. They are relatively common, especially in perimenopausal and menopausal women. Cysts in the breast tissue are usually benign. However, they can be painful and become enlarged and inflamed if knocked or bumped.
- Trauma or injury to the breast tissue
Trauma to the breast tissue can be sustained in several ways, including the use of a breast pump, bumping into something hard, a blow to the breast while playing sports, surgery, or a breast biopsy.
Any kind of breast trauma or injury can cause pain and swelling and, in some cases, could lead to infection (mastitis).
- A side effect of specific medications
Certain medications are well known for causing breast pain. These include antidepressant drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), the anemia treatment Oxymetholone, and the antipsychotic drug Chlorpromazine.
- Conditions unrelated to the breast
Pectoral muscle strain and conditions which cause inflammation in the chest wall can sometimes cause pain that feels as if it’s radiating from the breast tissue.
- Breast cancer
In most breast cancer cases, pain is unlikely to occur without the presence of an obvious lump. However, if you notice any of the following secondary symptoms, visit your doctor for an assessment.
- A lump or mass in the breast tissue
- Redness of the breast
- An increase in the size of the breast
- Discharge from one or both nipples
- A rash on the breast
- Changes to the skin over the breasts, e.g., dimpling, scaling, or peeling
What Are the Symptoms of Non-Cyclical Breast Pain?
The symptoms of non-cyclical breast pain depend on the underlying cause of the problem.
The pain may be constant or intermittent, and it can happen at any time. In many cases, only one breast is affected. The pain can be localized in one spot or spread across the whole breast. It may feel like a dull ache or a tight burning sensation.
How to Find Relief From Breast Pain and Soreness in Menopause
The right treatment plan will depend on the underlying cause of breast pain.
Treating Cyclical Breast Pain
If your symptoms are mild and only last for a few days during your menstrual cycle, you may not require treatment. However, if the pain is more severe, several interventions can help.
- Over-the-counter painkillers and anti-inflammatories
These over-the-counter drugs can reduce soreness on the days you feel the most pain. In some cases, your doctor may suggest a stronger, prescription-only alternative.
- Topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
These rub-on medications, such as ibuprofen gel, can provide more localized pain relief.
- A supportive bra
Those with larger breasts may benefit from wearing a supportive, comfortable, and well-fitting bra 24 hours a day during the most painful days of their cycle.
- Hormone blocking medications
Certain hormone-blocking medications may ease cyclical breast pain. However, they come with a long list of side effects. So, doctors usually prescribe this form of treatment to women whose breast pain is so severe that it affects their quality of life.
Treating Non-Cyclical Breast Pain
Breast pain that is not due to hormonal shifts has a wide variety of causes and treatment plans.
Over-the-counter and prescription painkillers can provide temporary relief for most types of non-cyclical breast pain. However, they shouldn’t be used on a long-term basis.
If the breast is swollen or inflamed, applying a cold compress or ice pack can also help.
An infection of the breast (mastitis) will usually be treated with a course of antibiotics. If an abscess has formed, this will need to be drained. Likewise, if a benign cyst is the cause of breast pain, your healthcare provider may recommend a draining procedure. This is generally painless and can sometimes be carried out in your doctor’s office.
If you are suffering from non-cyclical breast pain, the best course of action is to speak with your doctor. They can assess your symptoms and provide an accurate diagnosis. Then, you can access the right treatment plan for yourself.
Whether or not to wear a bra depends on your personal preference.
Many women find that wearing a comfortable and supportive bra 24 hours a day during menopause helps to ease the pain. However, it doesn’t matter how high quality the bra is; if it doesn’t fit properly, it is likely to cause you more pain, not less.
If you’re looking for a bra that will help to ease menopause-related breast pain, go the extra mile and book a professional fitting. This will ensure that whatever you buy helps, not hinders, your symptoms.
Breast pain and soreness can happen at any time during a woman’s life, but it’s much more likely to occur during perimenopause. In the months and years leading up to menopause, hormonal shifts make breast tenderness much more prevalent.
Breast pain is extremely common during perimenopause. But thankfully, once you pass menopause and your hormones have stabilized, the pain usually goes away on its own.
Breast pain that lasts long after menopause is over is likely to be non-cyclical and caused by something other than hormones. If you’re concerned about breast pain lasting longer than expected, speak to your doctor.
Breast pain is a common complaint among women of all ages, especially those in a perimenopausal phase.
Most cases of breast pain are due to hormonal fluctuations. When a woman reaches menopause, these fluctuations stop, and thankfully, the associated pain also stops.
However, breast pain in perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause has a wide variety of potential causes. So, if you’re concerned about soreness and discomfort, visit your doctor.