- Sore breasts
- Swollen breasts
- Discomfort when sleeping
- Pain when moving
- Burning sensation
- Constant aches
- Sensitive to touch
- Sensitive to pressure
- Tight and burning sensation
Just as the age a woman will enter menopause varies from one woman to the next, so does the symptoms each woman will experience. One symptom that is common to the majority of women, however, is breast pain and breast tenderness. In fact, Dr. Dixie Mills states that breast pain is often the first sign of menopause. Caused by a hormonal imbalance, breast pain is caused by the fluctuating hormones sending mixed signals causing a woman’s breasts to swell up and cause pain for periods of time. Although this pain and tenderness is a common symptom, some women may fear the worst and assume she has breast cancer. It is extremely important for women to develop a good understanding of what breast pain is, how it can be treated and how it will affect their lives.
What is Breast Pain?
Breast pain is known medically as mastalgia. It can be tenderness, discomfort or heaviness in one or both breasts. The most common type of breast pain is cyclical breast pain. This type of breast pain is the direct result of hormonal changes a woman experiences during her menstrual cycle. During a woman’s menstrual cycle, the levels of two hormones, estrogen and progesterone, fluctuate. Cyclical breast pain is normally more intense one to two weeks before a woman’s period begins and ends after her period begins. The pain is in both breasts and can vary in intensity and length from month to month. If you are going through perimenopause or menopause, your breast pain is most likely cyclical breast pain.
Symptoms of Breast Pain
The symptoms of breast pain vary from one woman to woman to the next. Some women experience multiple symptoms of breast pain and tenderness, while other experiences very minimal discomfort. The level of pain also varies from woman to woman. Women have described breast pain in different ways. Some women state that their breasts are tender and sore. Others experience swelling and a burning sensation. Others even describe it as a dull ache. Symptoms of breast pain can include any uncomfortable sensation of the breast that a woman experiences.
Causes of Breast Pain
As stated earlier, fluctuations in hormone levels are the primary cause of breast pain. It is also believed that the foods we eat and drink, as well as some medications, can contribute to breast pain. Foods high in caffeine have been linked to breast pain. Diets high in sodium can also cause the body to withhold water, causing swelling in breast tissue. Medications that contain hormones, such as birth control pills, can also cause breast pain. Very rarely is breast pain indicative of a more serious health problem. A woman should, however, notify her physician when she begins experiencing breast pain.
The amounts of estrogen and progesterone rise and fall irregularly during a woman’s menstrual cycle. While breast pain can be caused by either too much or too little estrogen, it can also be caused by not enough progesterone. Because of the mixed messages from a woman’s own hormones during menopause, the hypothalamus produces conditions where the woman’s breast glands swell and press on nerves, creating pain and tenderness. Hormone imbalances can also occur when you take medications containing hormones or, at times, due to environmental absorption of hormones
There could be many other non-hormonal causes to breast pain. Diet is another major cause of breast pain. Salt intake can also affect breast pain. Caffeine is known to contribute to breast pain. Women consume caffeine in a variety of foods and drinks. Recently, there has been a link between fatty foods and breast pain. Finally, there is a correlation between stress and breast pain.
- Poor diet
- Birth control pills
- Breast size
- Caffeine and alcohol consumption
- Breast cysts
- High Cholesterol medications
The risk factors for breast pain related to menopause are fairly straight forward. This type of breast pain typically occurs in middle-age women. Women whose diets are high in caffeine, salt or animal fats are at an increased risk for breast pain. Finally, woman taking medications that contain hormones are at an increased risk for breast pain.
Managing Breast Pain
Daily Lifestyle Changes
- Exercise – Any activity that will increase your physical exertion can make a difference in the severity of your breast pain. Many women associate exercise as a difficult activity, but adopting an exercise regime can be a wonderful alternative to alleviating your breast pain. Some ideas: Opting for the stairs at work, walking to the local grocery store, taking a yoga or dance class with friends or chair workouts in your own home. Exercise increases endorphin levels, which increases your threshold for pain.
- Stress Reduction and Relaxation – Reducing stress can be beneficial in the reduction of breast pain. Relaxation exercises, breathing exercises, massage, hypnosis, yoga and visualization techniques are all wonderful ways to help deal with stress and minimize the effects of stress on your body during menopause.
- Hot and Cold Treatments – Some women experience great relief from icing their breasts or even using a heat pad. It is important to try both options and see what you experience the most relief from.
- Wear a Bra – It is important to wear a professionally fitted bra throughout the day. Also, wear a sports bra when you exercise or during strenuous physical activity. Sleeping in a sports bra is practiced among many menopausal women who experience breast pain as a symptom.
- Replenishing Your Diet - Eating more calcium-rich foods, magnesium-rich foods and Vitamin E-foods, like green vegetables, nuts and almonds is important to alleviate breast pain
- Cut out salt from your diet – It is important to monitor one’s salt consumption until your breast pain subsides. If it is a hormonal imbalance that is causing breast pain, salt can actually worsen the pain by retaining water in the breasts.
- Low-Fat Diet – If one maintains a diet high in fat, it is important to adopt a healthier low-fat diet full of vegetables and fruits because the imbalance of fatty acids creates extremely sensitive breast tissue. It is advised to decrease the fat in one’s diet by 20% of the total calories. Animal fat should be eliminated from one’s diet.
- Eliminate Caffeine – Caffeine is known to cause fluctuations in one’s hormone levels, which can cause breast pain. Caffeine contains a chemical known as methyxanthine, which is known to dilate one’s blood vessels. This dilation can cause swelling and tenderness of the breast.
- Eat Flax Seed – Women who eat flax seed daily report a decrease in hormonal breast pain. It is recommended to sprinkle two tablespoons of crushed flaxseed on your food, daily for three months.
Important Trigger Foods to Avoid Bloating
- Artificial sweeteners (sorbitol)
- Dairy products
- Dark meat and skin
- Red meat
- Raw seafood
- Processed food
- Fried food
- Salad dressings
- Chewing gum
- Extremely hot or extremely cold food
- Vitamins - Vitamin C helps slow down wear and tear on your joints, keeps free radicals from wreaking havoc and plays an important role in the formation of collagen. Calcium supplements help prevent bone loss that leads to osteoporosis. Vitamin D helps prevent the breakdown of cartilage and maintains healthy and strong bones. B Vitamins help reduce joint inflammation and pain. Glucosamine sulfate, omega 3 fatty acids and proanthocyanadins are all good sources of vitamin supplements to assist in joint pain.
- Alternative Medicine – Chinese medicine (acupuncture) has been a long standing treatment for mood swings around the world. Acupuncture is a medical treatment involving the insertion of sharp sterile needles into the body at specific points according to a mapping of “energy pathways.” With acupuncture, arthritis is called a “Bi” or a “stagnation and stasis” condition. “Bi” conditions, according to their symptoms, can be categorized as intensity of pain, amount of inflammation or heat, swelling and disability. Acupuncture is often effective in reducing arthritic pain and improving mobility.
- Black Cohosh One of the most commonly used herbal remedies is Black Cohosh, a perennial plant that is a member of the buttercup family. It provides powerful phytoestrogens that mimic the hormone’s effects and bind to hormone receptors in the uterus and other parts of the body, alleviating hot flashes. Black Cohosh is also known to relieve hot flashes efficiently and is a good alternative to HRT. It is also used effectively for treating PMS, arthritis and lowering blood pressure. Red Clover, Dong Quai, Ginseng, Kava and evening primrose oil can be used as natural therapies, although there are some risks involved. Herbal supplements are not as closely regulated as prescription drugs and the amount of the herbal product, quality and safety may vary between brands.
- Herbal Remedies – Herbal remedies are useful in reducing inflammation and improving one’s energy. It is a great replacement for anti-inflammatory drugs that can cause further damage if taken for long periods of time. Licorice and peony roots soothe pain and spasms, while Korean ash bark restores flexibility. Chinese lovage root and safflower support proper circulation. The two commonly known herbs for treating joint pain are phytoestrogen and non-estrogenic herbs. Some of the most common phytoestrogen herbs are Saint Johns Wort, Black Cohosh and Dong Quai – all which contain estrogenic components produced by plants and replace some of the missing estrogen hormones experienced as a result of menopause. Although these herbs are known to maintain the balance of key neurotransmitters in the brain, they can also make your body less responsive to producing its own hormones, causing a further decrease of one’s hormone levels. Non-estrogenic herbs are known to nourish one’s hormonal glands into producing its own natural hormones. By stimulating one’s own hormone production, non-estrogenic herbs, such as Macafem. Macafem is grown in the Andes of Peru and has achieved great success in naturally increasing one’s hormone levels.
- Over-the-Counter Medication – It is recommended to use pain relievers for joint pain, such as Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, also known as NSAIDS), such as Ibuprofen (Advil), Aspirin (Bayer, Anacin) and Naproxen (Naprosyn or Aleve) and read all labels and instructions extremely carefully before taking them.
- Hormone Therapy Treatments (HRT) - For more severe cases of menopause, women may seek surgical or pharmaceutical treatments, although it is important to keep in mind that there are many studies showing hormone replacement therapy (HRT) increases a woman’s risk of elevated blood pressure, endometrial and breast cancers, strokes, blood clots and gallbladder disease. It is advised to speak with your doctor or healthcare professional regarding the negative side effects before you begin treatment.