Tender Breasts and Pain: Should You Be Worried?

Are you experiencing breast tenderness? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. In fact 70% of women complain of breast tenderness during their lifetime, and only 10% of them will experience severe tenderness and pain. The good news is breast tenderness rarely signals breast cancer. But what could it mean?

Medically referred to as mastalgia, mastodynia, and mammalgia, breast tenderness is the general term used to describe sensitivity, discomfort or pain felt when a breast is touched or when pressure is applied. This can be felt in one or both breasts.

Breast tenderness often happens around the time of menstruation or during pregnancy. Hormonal fluctuations can also trigger breast tenderness and pain, which is why menopausal women would experience the condition.

What causes breast tenderness?

There are several reasons why this can happen, but most of them are hormonal in nature. These usually include:

  • Menstruation
  • Puberty in both girls and boys
  • Ill-fitting bra
  • Use of birth control pills
  • Progesterone changes after ovulation
  • Breastfeeding
  • Pregnancy
  • Approach of menopause

Is breast tenderness an indication of pregnancy?

Breast tenderness is one of the first symptoms of pregnancy, but only when it occurs after you miss your period. It pays to know the difference between breast tenderness due to pregnancy or menstruation.

PMS, ovulation, and pregnancy trigger the release of hormones, which affects your breasts. To determine if breast tenderness is caused by any of these conditions, you may need to consider other symptoms, such as the schedule of your menstruation or the type of soreness you feel.

Ovulation

Pain or soreness can be felt on the sides of the breasts.

Pregnancy

Pain and soreness will be felt throughout the entire breasts and not just on the sides. Women may also experience a strong sensation of fullness or heaviness.

Do tender breasts mean I am nearing menopause?

Yes. Menopausal women will experience breast tenderness, until their menstrual periods stop completely. If they take hormone replacement therapy (HRT), however, the condition may persist. Remember that tender breasts can be triggered by changes in hormones. So women who take HRT after menopause will continue to experience the condition.

Is breast tenderness an indication of breast cancer?

When people feel pain, they usually think something is wrong. In the case of breast tenderness, however, it doesn’t always mean a life-threatening condition. But there are rare causes of breast tenderness that you shouldn’t ignore.

In very rare cases, breast tenderness may be caused by breast trauma, cysts or cancer. It can also happen due to stress, mastitis, alcohol intake, and the size of your breasts. Large breasts can be more tender than normal, and may be accompanied by back, neck or shoulder pain. Prior to breast surgery, a woman may also experience tenderness.

The condition, however, can be cause for alarm if there are distinct symptoms that occur along with it. A lump in the breast may be correlated to breast cancer if it is proven to be cancerous, rather than benign.

How can you tell if a lump is noncancerous?

When it is caused by breast infection, fibroadenoma (noncancerous tumor), fat necrosis (damaged tissue) and fibrocystic breast disease (“lumpy breasts”).

If the lump is ruled out as a cause for concern, refer to early signs of breast cancer, which include changes in the shape of the nipple, persistent breast pain and lumps that don’t go away after your next period, nipple discharge, swelling or lumps forming under the arm or around the collarbone, and a sudden occurrence of redness, skin irritation, a rash on the breast, and swelling.

Since early detection is one way to minimize the damage of breast cancer, you must contact your physician immediately if you notice any of the early signs, along with tenderness of the breast.

So, unless any of the distinct symptoms occur, breast pain and tenderness isn’t life-threatening.

Symptoms of breast tenderness

Symptoms may include swelling, soreness, sensitivity to pressure, discomfort with movement, pain while sleeping, aches, and dull, heavy or aching feelings. These can manifest in one or both breasts.

Again, if you only experience these symptoms, minus other changes in your body and health condition, then you are simply experiencing the effects of hormonal changes.

Treatments for breast pain

If you experience severe discomfort, you would want to do something to ease the pain or relieve the symptoms. There are three approaches you can consider, including medication, lifestyle changes, and alternative medicine. Among them, making changes in your lifestyle is the least risky and should be top priority. Medication should be a last resort.

Lifestyle changes to minimize/ease breast pain

  • Exercise or go for a walk for half an hour daily.
  • Wear a supportive bra when sleeping or exercising.
  • Eat a low-fat diet.
  • Eat natural diuretics, such as asparagus and celery.
  • Eat phytoestrogen-rich food, such as soy and flaxseed.
  • Increase intake of dietary fiber, such as raspberries and beans.
  • Reduce intake of caffeine and alcohol.
  • Reduce fluid retention by taking it easy on the salt.

When breast pain and tenderness do occur, massage your breasts with coconut or olive oil, or use a hot or cold compress. Breathing techniques and other relaxation methods can also help.

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