CYCLICAL BREAST PAIN
Cyclical breast pain is very common and first develops between the ages of 30 and 50 years. In many women the symptoms are mild. However, in around one in ten women the pain can be severe or last up to two weeks before a period. The five days prior to a period are usually the worst. Typically, the pain affects both breasts. Your breasts may also feel more swollen and lumpy than usual. This lumpiness is generalized so does not lead to a single definite lump forming. This swelling and lumpiness decrease soon after your period starts.
If the pain is severe, or for the times when it may flare up worse than usual, treatment options include the following:
- Support your breasts. Wear a well-supporting bra 24 hours a day for the week before a period. Avoid underwire bras. Wear a sports bra when you exercise. Get yourself measured for the right size bra.
- Use painkillers and anti-inflammatories e.g. ibuprofen.
- Use rub-on non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) e.g. topical ibuprofen.
- HRT or the contraceptive pill may make cyclical breast pain worse. Some antidepressants and some blood pressure drugs increase breast pain. Discuss with your GP.
- Medicines such as bromocriptine can ease pain by reducing the level or blocking the effect of, female hormones such as oestrogen. You need to take them regularly (not just when the pain occurs). However, significant side-effects are common with these drugs.
- Evening primrose oil. Evening primrose oil needs to be taken for up to four months before you can decide if it is helpful or not.
- Eat more cruciferous veg e.g. cabbage, cauliflower, spring greens, broccoli, kale, sprouts and soy food such as tofu, soya milk or Pure which is a non-dairy soya spread.
- Lower saturated fat, carbohydrate, dairy, coffee, salt and caffeine.
- Eat 3 portions a week of oily fish e.g. mackerel, tuna, trout, herring, salmon, sardines (omega 3s). Flaxseeds are also a rich source of omega 3 (you can get this in supplement form or in seed form to be sprinkled on cereal, in soups, on salads or in stir-fries).
- Take natural vitamin E with selenium (Holland & Barrett) (1 capsule a day)
- Take a vitamin B timed complex.
NON-CYCLICAL BREAST PAIN
Non-cyclical breast pain can be present all the time, or come and go in a random way, is not related to periods and more common in women over 40. The pain may be in just one breast and may be localized to one area in a breast. Sometimes the pain is felt all over one or both breasts. There are various causes:
- Pain coming from the breast tissue itself in the absence of any lumps, tumours, or other abnormality being detected.
- Pain coming or radiating from the chest wall under the breast rather than the breast itself. Muscular or bony problems of the chest wall account for some cases.
- Infection may be a cause.
- Shingles may cause pain before a rash develops.
- Breast tumours, cancer and lumps are a very uncommon cause of breast pain.
- The cause is often not clear.
In many cases, the pain goes after a few months without any treatment. Other treatments may be appropriate, depending on whether a cause is found. As there are various causes, it is best to see your GP for assessment.
If you are not sure which type of breast pain you have, keep a pain diary for 3 months. Record the days when you have breast pain and see what pattern emerges.
If you have concerns about breast pain or any other breast symptoms, consult your GP.