Why are my breasts sore?
Sore breasts can be a symptom of many different health conditions. During your reproductive years, sore breasts could be a sign of pregnancy or a signal that your period is about to start. This condition is called mastalgia. Mastalgia means breast pain. Breast pain can be cyclical (corresponds with your period) or noncyclical (no relation to your period).
If you’re nearing menopause, you may also have sore breasts. Menopause is a transitional time when your periods slow and finally stop due to hormonal changes in your body. In addition to sore breasts, menopause can cause other symptoms like hot flashes and vaginal dryness.
Take a moment to learn about why menopause can cause breast soreness and a few tips to help you ease the discomfort.
When you enter menopause, your monthly menstrual periods stop. This is because your body is no longer producing the hormones estrogen and progesterone. On average, women in the United States reach menopause around age 51.
Menopause isn’t a sudden stopping point. It’s a gradual process that usually takes between 4 to 12 years. The time leading up to menopause is called perimenopause. This is when your periods become more irregular. Perimenopause usually begins when you’re in your 40s.
You’re generally considered to be in menopause after you haven’t had a period in a full year. During this time, you may experience a range of symptoms, from hot flashes to vaginal dryness and sore breasts.
What are the symptoms?
Breast soreness related to perimenopause will likely feel different from the soreness you may have felt at other times in your life. Menstrual breast pain usually feels like a dull ache in both breasts. It often occurs right before your period.
Breast pain during perimenopause is more likely to feel like burning or soreness. You may feel it in one breast or both breasts. Not all women experience breast discomfort in the same way. The pain may feel sharp, stabbing, or throbbing.
The same hormones that cause overall breast soreness during perimenopause may also lead to tender or sensitive areas within your breasts. Other signs that you’re in perimenopause include:
- hot flashes
- irregular periods
- night sweats
- vaginal dryness
- loss of interest in sex, or less pleasure from sex
- trouble sleeping
- mood changes
If you don’t think your breast soreness is due to perimenopause, consider a visit to your doctor. You should also consult your doctor if you have additional symptoms, such as:
- clear, yellow, bloody, or pus-like discharge from the nipple
- increase in breast size
- redness of the breast
- changes in the appearance of the breast
- chest pain
These symptoms could be a sign of a more serious condition. For example, chest pain could be a sign of a heart condition. Your doctor can help determine if your breast soreness is hormonal or if another condition might be causing your symptoms.
What causes breast soreness?
Changing levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone are the usual cause of breast pain during perimenopause and menopause. As you enter perimenopause, estrogen and progesterone levels rise and fall in unpredictable patterns before starting to taper off. The spikes in hormone levels can affect breast tissue, making your breasts hurt.
Breast soreness should improve once your periods stop and your body no longer produces estrogen. If you take hormone therapy to treat menopause symptoms, you may continue to have sore breasts.
Risk factors for sore breasts
Your breast soreness may be related to menopause, or it could be a symptom of another condition. Your risk of having breast soreness is higher if you:
- take certain medicines, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), diuretics, digitalis preparations, methyldopa or spironolactone (Aldactone)
- experience a breast infection
- have cysts in your breasts
- have a fibroadenoma or a noncancerous lump in the breast
- wear a poorly fitting bra, especially one with an underwire
- gain weight or have large breasts
Though rare, breast cancer can cause breast soreness. Most breast pain isn’t due to cancer. However, finding a lump in your breast that is accompanied by pain is stressful and causes worry. So see your doctor to find out the next steps of evaluation. There are noncancerous conditions that can cause breast lumps and soreness. Your doctor can order tests to find out what’s causing the problem.
Your doctor will most likely start by asking you questions about the pain. You may find it helpful to keep a journal about your breast pain and bring it to your appointment. Make a note about:
- when and how often you have pain
- what the pain feels like, such as sharp, burning, or aching
- whether the pain comes and goes or is steady
- what makes the pain worse or better
Your doctor will likely perform a clinical breast exam, which involves feeling your breasts for any lumps or other changes. Your doctor may also order imagining tests, such as a mammogram or ultrasound.
If your doctor finds a lump, you may need a biopsy. This test is performed by taking a sample of tissue from the lump. The tissue is sent to a lab, where a pathologist examines it to see if it’s cancerous or benign.
Treating breast pain
Once you have a diagnosis, you and your doctor can take steps to treat your pain. For breast soreness due to perimenopause, you have a few pain relief options.
Over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription treatments
Some people turn to natural remedies, such as vitamins, for relief. Popular options include:
- B vitamins
- vitamin E
- evening primrose oil, which contains omega-6 fatty acids that may help with breast pain
- omega-3 fatty acids, like flax seeds or fish oil supplements
Research doesn’t support these alternative treatments, but some women claim they help. If you take any medications regularly, consult your doctor before trying a supplement. Some natural products can interact with other drugs.
A few simple strategies may help relieve breast soreness without the potential side effects of medicines or herbal remedies.
- Always wear a supportive bra, especially when you work out.
- Place a heating pad on your breasts or take a warm shower.
- Limit items that contain caffeine, such as coffee and chocolate, since some women find caffeine makes the soreness worse.
- Don’t smoke.
You can also ask your doctor whether any of the medicines you take might be causing your breast soreness. Your doctor can let you know whether switching to a different drug or dosage might help.
If your breast soreness is due to a transition into menopause, it will likely go away once your periods stop. Most breast pain isn’t a sign of a serious medical condition. But if your pain doesn’t improve with self-treatment or you have other symptoms, take the time to get medical advice. Talking to your doctor may help you find out if your breast soreness is related to menopause or another condition.