Menopause and Breast Pain
Women can experience breast pain for many different reasons, including menopause. This uncomfortable symptom can be worrying but is not usually a cause for serious concern. Here’s all you need to know about the relationship between menopause and breast pain, including causes, treatments and when to see a doctor.
What Is Breast Pain?
Breast pain is an uncomfortable sensation that can occur in one or both breasts. There are different types of breast pain and they are generally considered to be either cyclical or non-cyclical.
Cyclical breast pain refers to discomfort that occurs before or during a menstrual period. It is the result of fluctuating hormone levels.
On the other hand, non-cyclical pain can occur at any time. It has a variety of possible causes:
- Neck, back, or shoulder injuries
- Cysts or abscesses
- Certain medications
- Large, heavy breasts
- Ill-fitting bras
Many women worry that pain could be a symptom of breast cancer. However, breast pain alone is not usually a sign of this condition. That said, women should see a doctor if they experience breast pain accompanied by:
- A hard, unmovable lump in the breast
- Changes in breast size or shape
- Discharge from the nipples
- Inverted nipples
- A rash around the nipples
- Dimpled, orange peel-like skin
It is essential to be familiar with your breasts’ normal appearance and check them regularly for any changes. Women aged over 40 should also attend breast screenings every one to two years, or as recommended by their doctor.
Breast Pain Symptoms
The symptoms of breast pain can vary depending on the cause. For example, women who experience cyclical pain often describe it as being:
- Dull or aching in nature
- Accompanied by swelling and a heavy sensation
- Bilateral (affecting both sides)
Non-cyclical breast pain is more variable. Depending on the cause, it may affect both breasts, one breast, or just one area.
If an infection is present, the breast may feel hot, hard and swollen. The pain might be burning, throbbing, sharp, or stabbing in nature.
Meanwhile, breast pain due to cysts or abscesses will usually be accompanied by a lump or swelling in one area. In this case, the breast may feel tender to touch.
So, how about breast pain and menopause? Let’s take a closer look.
How Menopause Can Cause Breast Pain
In the years leading up to menopause, women experience gradually declining levels of the female sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone. This causes a range of symptoms, including irregular periods, hot flashes, mood changes and breast pain.
As women’s periods become less regular during this time, it can be difficult to know whether breast pain is cyclical or non-cyclical. Although it may still be related to hormonal changes, breast pain may happen unexpectedly at different times throughout the month.
In addition to this, there are several other reasons why menopausal women may be more likely to experience breast pain than younger women. Many of these are a result of the natural aging process, such as arthritis in the neck or upper back. In some cases, this condition causes pain that can spread to the chest and breasts. Furthermore, many women gain weight around the time of menopause. This can cause the breasts to become heavier, sometimes leading to pain.
Finally, some medications that women take to help with their menopause symptoms and other health issues may contribute. Hormone replacement therapy, blood pressure medication and some antidepressants can all cause breast pain as a side effect.
Breast Pain Treatment Options
The best treatment for breast pain during menopause will depend on the exact cause. Therefore, it is important to see a doctor and get a diagnosis before making any decisions.
For example, in many cases, over-the-counter painkillers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen may be effective. However, if there is an infection present, antibiotics will be required. Likewise, if there is an abscess, it may be necessary to have this drained.
Some women find natural remedies for breast pain helpful, although there is little scientific evidence to back their use. Some popular options include massage, acupuncture and supplements like vitamin E, fish oil, or evening primrose oil.
Some women also find it beneficial to take a warm shower or use hot or cool compresses to soothe painful breasts.
How to Prevent Breast Pain During Menopause
One of the best ways to prevent breast pain before and after menopause is to wear a comfortable, well-fitted bra. This might include wearing a soft bra while sleeping in some cases. Many stores offer measuring services and it is worth taking advantage of these every time you purchase a new bra.
Some women find that limiting their intake of caffeine and fatty food helps to relieve breast pain. Others say that quitting smoking helps. Although there is limited evidence to support these claims, they may be worth a try.
Finally, if you are taking any medication, ask your physician whether they could cause breast pain as a side effect. If so, they may be able to offer you an alternative treatment that helps.