You may find your breasts become swollen and painful at times during the menopause transition. While this is nothing to worry about, it can be uncomfortable – so here’s our lowdown on why it’s happening and what you can do about it.
Why hormone changes cause sore breasts
In the years before your periods stop completely, the hormones oestrogen and progesterone fluctuate unpredictably. It’s these fluctuations that are thought to cause breast pain – clinically known as mastalgia – some women have breast tissue that is more sensitive to seesawing hormones. You’ll probably find the breast pain comes and goes, and your breasts may also increase and decrease in size at different times. Women describe the pain in different ways – your breasts may feel very sore and swollen, or it may be more of a dull ache or even a burning or throbbing pain. As the pain is caused by helter-skelter hormones, it should go away once your periods have stopped.
How HRT can contribute to breast tenderness
The exception to this may be if you’re taking HRT. For some women, HRT itself can contribute to breast tenderness. Over on our Live Better With Menopause forum, community member Nicolak reports noticing fullness and pain when she had to switch to a different form of HRT due to shortages – even when she went back onto her original HRT, the breast symptoms lingered. ‘My boobs are huge and sore,’ she says. If you’re on HRT and think it’s causing breast pain, speak to your GP – switching to a different type may help.
And there are some simple lifestyle changes you can put in place to ease the discomfort.
1.Change your bra
This may sound obvious but you might be surprised how much difference it makes. Many women find they can no longer tolerate uncomfortable underwiring – or find they need a bra that offers a bit more support. You could also consider wearing a bra at night if pain bothers you then – just make sure it’s a very soft one. It’s worth getting measured professionally as your breasts tend to change shape and size over the years, especially after having kids, so make sure you’re wearing a size that fits you well. Comfort doesn’t have to mean boring – there are loads of pretty options out there. Think about the fabric that feels best against your skin, too. You may find lace is too scratchy, for example.
Fluid retention can aggravate breast soreness. Although it seems counter-intuitive, being dehydrated – even mildly – can actually cause fluid retention. So drink plenty of fluids – around 1.5 litres daily – and also cut down on salt, as this can worsen fluid retention (hint: most of our salt intake comes from processed foods rather than what we add to meals, so basing your diet around fresh, whole foods will sort salt reduction). Watch your caffeine intake, too. Although tea and coffee can technically count towards your fluid intake for the day, when it comes to breast tenderness, caffeine may be a contributing factor. Try swapping some of your caffeinated cuppas for herbal teas.
3.Check your fats
Certain fats may be linked to breast pain and some women find reducing the amount of saturated fats in their diet can be helpful. These are found in animal products such as meat and dairy so it may be a good idea to try reducing these foods and increasing your intake of fresh fruit and vegetables.
4.Try evening primrose oil
It contains high levels of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an omega-6 fatty acid. Some studies have suggested evening primrose oil may help reduce the inflammation linked with breast pain. You’ll need to be patient as research shows it can take a few months before you notice the benefits – but many women swear by it so it could be worth trying.
5.Ease the pain
On days your breasts feel very sore, you could try some on-the-spot relief.
Lots of women find applying warmth to tender breasts can be very soothing. You could try a warm compress – or simply have a warm shower or bath. Paracetamol or ibuprofen can also help when pain is really bothering you.
6.Be breast aware
Breast pain is a common symptom of menopause and is usually no cause for concern. But it’s important for every woman to be vigilant about her breasts. You should be aware of any changes that could indicate a more serious condition – including lumps, skin or nipple changes, skin rashes, a change in the shape of your breasts or any discharge from the nipples. Severe, persistent pain, especially with a high temperature plus swollen or red areas, should also be checked out. See your GP urgently if you notice any of these signs or have any concerns - they can rule out a more serious cause.