Most women older than 15 already know that sometimes, breasts can feel heavy and hurt. In most cases, periods are to blame — the breasts are sore right before a period starts, during the period, and even after it. However, breast pain can also be an early pregnancy symptom, which makes differentiating between these two types of soreness all the more critical.
How Can Breasts Hurt?
Mastalgia, or breast pain, is often associated with cyclical or non-cyclical “waves” of soreness. In most cases, breasts may be tender to touch or feel tight. However, you may also experience sharp pain that comes and goes.
Cyclical pain is the one you feel when you’re on your period. Right before the period starts, your breasts might feel heavy and swollen. Both breasts can hurt at the same time, especially in the upper and outer areas. What’s more, there could be some lumpiness, dullness, and aching as well.
In general, when you feel pain like this, you’re uncomfortable, and wearing anything too restricting proves to be a complete nuisance and an ordeal.
In contrast, non-cyclical breast pain doesn’t have anything to do with your period. It usually occurs at irregular intervals, often catching you off guard. Furthermore, unlike typical cyclical breast pain, it’s not dull. Most of the time, the soreness almost burns through your breasts, and there’s some tightness as well.
Period Breast Pain: Causes
If your breasts swell up and feel tender to touch two weeks, a week, or when your period is about to begin, know that PMS is to blame. The premenstrual syndrome (PMS) comes with a whole range of symptoms, one of which is mild to severe breast pain and overall heaviness in the chest area.
Fibrocystic breast disease is another cause of extreme breast pain. The soreness is often followed by swelling and tenderness, and it occurs before the period starts. However, if you mostly feel sharp pain, then your hormone levels are probably out of control.
Changes in Hormone Levels
Two hormones, estrogen and progesterone, are to blame for sharp breast pain that occurs before your period starts. To be more precise, the changes in the hormone levels are the real reason your breasts are sore and feel tight.
Now, depending on where you are in your cycle, you may feel pain as early as two weeks before the period. That’s when your estrogen levels go up, enlarging the breast ducts and causing heaviness and soreness. Then, a week before the period, progesterone comes out to play. This hormone causes the swelling of your milk glands.
Essentially, both of these hormones spike because the body is preparing itself for a baby. Usually, ovulation happens about two weeks before your period.
Is It Cancer?
Contrary to popular belief, breasts usually don’t hurt if you have breast cancer. However, if you’re worried, you ought to pay your doctor a visit and get yourself checked out, especially if the pain persists and is followed by:
- Breast infection symptoms, such as tenderness, redness, fever, and pus
- A lump you can feel with your fingers
- Bloody or clear nipple discharge
When Is Breast Pain a Sign of Pregnancy?
One of the most annoying things about PMS and early pregnancy is the fact that the symptoms are more or less the same. About two weeks after conception, estrogen and progesterone levels will spike, just like in the case of an impending period. Common symptoms include swelling, heaviness, fullness, tenderness, sensitivity, and soreness.
So, how does it differ from PMS-related breast pain? If you’re pregnant, the breasts won’t hurt so bad but will hurt for longer. If your period is approaching, it’s common to feel mild or severe dull pain, which only gets worse the closer the period gets. Additionally, the breasts may feel a bit bumpy, heavy, and dense.
In any case, it’s impossible to tell if you’re pregnant based on breast pain. If there’s a chance that you might be, the best way to find out would be to do a blood test.
Do All Women Experience Severe Breast Pain Before Period?
Fortunately, not every woman has to endure the same level of breast pain before, during, and after the period. Some might experience a bit of dullness; others might feel as if their chest is going to fall out on the ground. The good news is that menopause may provide some relief. Hormone levels change naturally as you age, so the closer you are to menopause, the less period breast pain you feel.
Breast Pain During and After Period
If your breasts still hurt even after the period starts, there’s no need to worry. The pain you have been feeling for at least a week before the period hasn’t yet gone away.
The pain usually stops as soon as the period ends. However, if one or both of your breasts are sore after the period has already ended, then you might be experiencing non-cyclical pain.
The most common causes of non-cyclical pain include:
- Breast trauma
- Sprains in the neck, shoulder, or back
- Fibrocystic changes in the breasts
If you’re wearing the wrong kind or size of bra, your breasts might continue hurting even after the period is long gone. Furthermore, any type of breast surgery that ends with scar tissue, as well as some medications (oral hormonal contraceptives, antidepressants, and antipsychotics) can also cause breast pain.
How to Manage Breast Pain
Taking some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for breast pain, such as ibuprofen and naproxen sodium, is a good way of sailing through this part of your cycle smoothly. These drugs will also help you reduce menstrual cramps and make you more comfortable. Nevertheless, if the pain is quite severe, visit a doctor. They may prescribe diuretics, which should help with the tenderness and swelling.
There’s also a medicine called Danazol. Most of the time, doctors prescribe it if the patient has endometriosis or fibrocystic breast disease. It’s only meant for extreme breast pain, though, and it comes with side effects.
Finally, yet another course of action is to get on the pill. Oral contraceptive pills are an excellent means to an end and come with various benefits. They can help you regulate your period, as well as reduce both breast pain and cramps. If you’re not planning to have a baby, they may be the right choice for you.
To reduce period breast pain, you can also:
- Wear a sports bra for extra support both during the day and at night
- Follow a low-sodium, low-fat, high-fiber diet
- Reduce your caffeine and alcohol intake
- Take mineral or vitamin supplements (vitamins E and B-6, magnesium, calcium) OR eat foods that contain these minerals and vitamins (avocados, spinach, peanuts, carrots, corn, bananas, etc.).