Breast pain is often a symptom of an impending menstrual period. This telltale sign leaves breasts and nipples achy, tender and sometimes excruciating to the touch. A variety of factors are at fault here, from hormones to food choices.
Each month, a woman's body goes through a cycle of hormonal changes that cause a variety of events to occur. From achy, swollen breasts to bloating, fatigue and increased or decreased libido, the reproductive hormones within our bodies cause physiological changes that can be bothersome. Rest assured, however, that most of these symptoms are natural and normal, including cyclical breast pain.
Oestrogen and progesterone, which fluctuate in concentration naturally throughout a woman's monthly cycle, are the main cause for all menstrual and premenstrual symptoms. These hormones are necessary for preparing a woman for possible pregnancy. As these hormone concentrations increase (at the start of ovulation, about 10-14 days after the menstrual period), a woman may experience symptoms that are uncomfortable but natural.
The increase in hormones, first of all, results in the retention of extra fluids to prepare for a possible pregnancy or release of fluid during the menses if no pregnancy is present. This fluid retention, which can be aggravated by extensive sodium intake, often causes a feeling of bloating, an increase in weight, and most notably, a painful swelling of the breasts.
A chemical called methylxanthine, which is a compound found in caffeine, can aggravate breast pain because it causes a dilation of blood vessels, including those in the breasts. This dilation can cause extra fluid to accumulate in the breast and make the breasts tender, swollen and painful before your period.
Some studies also show that a high consumption of animal fats and dairy products can lead to excessive breast tenderness and pain before your menstrual cycle. While the exact reason of origin is unknown, scientists hypothesise that the hormones used in livestock farming and milk production may be passed into the consumer, causing an excess of hormones that aggravate symptoms.
Some studies suggest that stress can lead to breast pain-- ot just in a premenstrual sense, but in general as well. Because stress causes the release of certain hormones, it may affect the absorption or secretion of other hormones, causing an imbalance that can lead to a variety of symptoms, including breast pain.
Most forms of chemical birth control, including The Pill, patch, shot, ring and hormone-containing IUDs, can limit breast pain and make it more manageable and predictable. Taking a birth control regimen usually guarantees that you will experience minor breast pain, or even no pain at all, during the week you will be taking your placebo, or "sugar" pills. This pain, should it occur, will be alleviated by the onset of menstrual bleeding, as it would be without contraception as well.
Some women experience mild breast tenderness during the "active" pills when they first begin taking contraception. This usually goes away within the first few cycles as the body adjusts to the hormones in The Pill.
Limiting caffeine, salt, animal fat and dairy intake before your period can help to resolve breast pain or make it more manageable.
Over the counter pain relievers such as Midol, Pamprin, Tylenol, and Advil are useful in managing breast pain that is caused by your monthly cycle as well.
If your breast pain is sudden, one-sided or extremely severe, see a doctor as soon as possible. A breast exam may be necessary to rule out cancer.