Breast discomfort is a normal part of being a woman. It is almost always not a sign of breast cancer. Breasts are mammary glands that are responsive to natural hormonal changes, especially fluctuations in estrogen, that occur at menstruation, menopause, and pregnancy. Hormonal changes can cause breasts to become hot, swollen, tender, and painful to the touch. “Breast discomfort is really common for women,” says Amanda Clark, M.D., assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland. “We see it a great deal during early pregnancy, with menstruation, and during early hormone therapy at menopause.”

Breast care specialists say that for most women, breast discomfort waxes and wanes with the menstrual cycle. Right before and during menstruation, higher-than-usual levels of the female hormone estrogen may cause one or both breasts to swell and become tender. Discomfort ranges from mild tenderness in some women to excruciating pain in others. (Taking oral contraceptives produces similar effects.) For many women monthly bouts of breast discomfort disappear with menopause--unless they undergo estrogen replacement therapy.

Causes Breast Discomfort

Cyclic breast pain appears to have a strong hormonal association. However, studies have not found a consistent hormonal abnormality. The fact that pain often decreases or disappears with pregnancy or menopause lends support to a hormonal association.

As hormonal imbalance is the most probable cause for breast tenderness during menstruation periods, the first step is to ensure your body has the support it needs to maintain good hormonal levels. The best way to go should be to start with a healthy nutrition and maybe follow a hormonal imbalance treatment such as alternative medicine.

Inverted nipple: Repeat occurrences of inverted nipple can lead to mammary duct ectasia. A newly inverted nipple also may obstruct milk ducts, causing inflammation and infection. A nipple that's newly inverted also could be a sign of a more serious underlying condition, such as cancer.

Avoid touching or stimulating your breasts and avoid hot showers. Binding your breasts may also help. You may try wearing pre-pregnancy sports bras. Wear the bra for a few days and the discomfort should decrease.

Symptoms of Breast Discomfort

Cyclic breast pain: Cyclic breast pain usually occurs in both breasts and involves the entire breast, particularly the upper, outer portions, extending into the underarm area. With cyclic breast pain, you may feel tenderness, swelling or lumpiness in addition to the pain. Women often describe this type of breast pain as dull, heavy or aching. It tends to be most intense during the week or two before your period and to ease up afterward. Cyclic breast pain is the most common type of breast pain, accounting for about two-thirds of cases.

The symptoms are grouped under a variety of different umbrella terms, including cyclical breast pain, cyclical mastalgia (which literally means breast pain), cyclical mastitis or fibrocystic breast disease. Despite their severity and the disruption they can cause, most breast problems are benign, not cancer. However, don’t be tempted to ignore them. Any unusual changes in your breasts should be reported to your doctor.

Forget the calendar. Like many women, you chart your menstrual cycle by consulting your breasts. A week or two before your period, your breasts start to hurt. Then once your period begins, the discomfort subsides...only to start up again next month.

No matter what a woman's age, the discomfort seems to escalate with emotional stress or prolonged inactivity. Excessive amounts of salt, fat and caffeine also seem to have a negative impact.

Symptoms may range from mild to severe. Symptoms typically peak just before each menstrual period, and improve immediately after the menstrual period.

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