Sore Breasts In Perimenopause (Ouch!)

January 28, 2020.

You may find that you have breast soreness that is different or new to you as you enter perimenopause. Some women who had breast pain during the menstrual cycles find that the pain goes away with menopause. However, other women find that it gets worse in perimenopause. Breast soreness is one of the 34 symptoms of perimenopause. And while it is an expected symptom, it is an absolute pain (pun intended)

What Causes sore breasts in perimenopause?

The causes of breast pain can be either cyclical or non-cyclical. Cyclical causes of breast pain are linked to your menstrual cycle. Indeed, there are certain developmental periods in a woman’s life that can cause breast soreness:

  • Puberty
  • Pregnancy
  • Menopause

You may notice that as you near your period, your breasts tend to swell. This is due to an increase in the size of milk lobules and ducts, as well as water retention. Prior to menstruation estrogen and progesterone signal your breasts to swell in order to prepare for pregnancy and breastfeeding. The resultant swelling causes pain and tenderness, and you may even find lumps in your breasts that go away when you start your period.

Causes of breast pain

In cyclical breast pain, both breasts tend to be tender, as the root cause of pain is hormonal. Some women find that breast soreness worsens in perimenopause. The cause of this occurrence is due to erratic hormone surges and drops as you progress towards menopause. Interestingly, there have been no studies confirming that hormonal abnormalities cause cyclical breast pain. Indeed, the breast pain women experience before a period, or even in perimenopause and menopause, is linked to expected hormonal fluctuations.

Non-cyclical causes of breast pain are not directly related to your menstrual period. Therefore, the root cause of this type of breast pain does not follow a predictable pattern. Furthermore, the source of non-cyclical pain is usually related to a specific problem. The following is a list of non-cyclical causes of breast pain.

  • Breast cysts – Some women may develop fibrocystic breast tissue with aging. These fibrocystic changes can occur when breast tissue is replaced with fat. Women with fibrocystic breasts don’t always feel pain with cysts, although the breasts may feel tender where you have a lump or cyst.
  • Injury or trauma – Skeletalmuscular injury can cause breast pain, or may at least lead your brain to perceive the pain is coming from the breast. Indeed, many women who strain muscles around the breast area from activities such as rowing, shoveling, and lifting, may feel pain in their breasts.
  • Chest wall conditions – There are certain conditions in the chest cavity that can refer pain to the breasts. Conditions that affect the esophagus, neck, upper back, ribs, and even the heart may transmit pain signals that are referred to the breasts by your brain.
  • Benign tumors – If you have non-cancerous (benign) tumors in or around your breasts, you may experience breast pain.

Related: Why Do I Have Sore Nipples?

Concerning Symptoms of Sore Breasts In Menopause

Breast pain, soreness, and discomfort can span the entire breast and spread into the armpit (or axilla) and the arm. Many women describe perimenopause breast soreness as much different from soreness around their period. For example, what once felt like a dull ache in both breasts before your period may now feel like burning, stabbing, or throbbing in perimenopause. Similarly, whereas both breasts are usually affected in breast soreness before a period, you may feel pain in only one breast in perimenopause.

While the above symptoms tend to be normal in perimenopause, the following breast-related symptoms are not normal and should be evaluated by a doctor:

  • Discharge leaking from the nipple (may be clear, yellow, pus-like, or bloody)
  • Redness on the breast
  • Increase in breast size
  • Changes in the appearance of the breast(s)
  • Fever
  • Chest pain (may be a sign of heart trouble)
  • Infection
  • Medications
  • Arthritis
  • Breast support issues, such as pendulous breasts
  • Cancer

Managing Sore Breasts After Menopause

Women with breast pain after menopause, or any other time for that matter, may have concerns about breast cancer. However, studies show that breast cancer is not commonly diagnosed in women who seek medical care for breast pain. Nonetheless, if you are concerned about cancer, have your doctor perform a complete breast exam.

If you have a sore breast after menopause or in perimenopause, it may be helpful to keep a journal to track your breast symptoms. To monitor changes in your breasts, conduct a self-exam by feeling and looking at your breasts. Some women find they develop a swollen sore breast in perimenopause. If the swelling does not go away, or you notice any other concerning changes in your breasts, consult your doctor.

Disclaimer: This is not medical advice, does not take the place of medical advice from your physician, and is not intended to treat or cure any disease. Patients should see a qualified medical provider for assessment and treatment.

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Julia Walker
perry expert Julia (RN, BSN, BA) is a registered nurse based in Colorado. Julia's nursing background in women’s health has ranged from neonatal and postpartum care to labor and delivery, to outpatient gynecological medicine for both adolescent and adult populations. She specializes in helping women optimize their health during perimenopause and beyond.

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