Why Do My Breasts Hurt During PMS and What Can I Do About It?

Updated on August 16, 2018
lyoness913 profile image

Summer has experienced severe breast pain before her period and has tried several methods to help relieve the pain.

PMS is more than just cramps.
PMS is more than just cramps. | Source

What Causes Breast Swelling and Tenderness?

A week or so before your period arrives, your body begins producing lots of estrogen and progesterone. Those hormones are what cause these symptoms. During this time, your body retains more water, which is what causes you to become bloated. Rings, shoes, or pants may feel tight because your body swells with extra water, which also makes your breasts swell. All that fluid forces your breast tissue to expand, stretching the nerves and causing that painful, achy feeling.

Soon after you get your period, the soreness should disappear. If the pain is really bad, you can take an OTC pain reliever such as ibuprofen. Wearing a more supportive bra, like a sports bra, will prevent your breasts from moving too much, which can also reduce tenderness. Cutting down on salty foods can also offer relief since eating excessive amounts of salt will make you retain even more water.

Hormonal Changes Are Responsible for Your Discomfort

The most common cause of breast pain is a hormonal change that occurs before your period. The body's response to shifts in estrogen levels typically manifests itself in swelling and tenderness on the day before your period begins and the first day of your menstrual flow, says Taraneh Shirazian, M.D., Assistant Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Science at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.

This type of breast soreness is called cyclic pain since it's related to your menstrual cycle. The good news: It should go away when your period ends. Birth control pills can help, says Shirazian, since they prevent ovulation and keep estrogen levels stable. And if you'd rather the skip the OTC pain reliever, primrose oil supplements may also ease soreness.

I have taken 'the pill.' While it absolutely did relieve my breast pain, the pill also left me with extremely huge breasts. My boyfriend even commented that my breasts were giant all of a sudden. I went from a 36C to a 38DDD in just a couple of months, and of course, that brought on a whole new set of problems. However, not every woman experiences weight gain with the pill.

Breast swelling is caused by the fluctuation of hormones.
Breast swelling is caused by the fluctuation of hormones. | Source

Nine Ways to Avoid Breast Tenderness Before Your Period

PMS can be uncomfortable, but luckily there are a few steps you can take to relieve your discomfort.

1. Wear less-constricting bras whenever possible.

Avoid wearing underwire and push-up bras. Try wearing camisoles with built-in shelf bras or sports bras for support.

  • Try wearing a sports bra at night for gentle support.
  • Better yet, try wearing two bras or support bras for extra binding. No one likes to flop all over the place, especially when their breasts are sore!

2. Avoid caffeine.

Although studies linking caffeine and breast tenderness are still underway and many have been inconclusive, some women have found that reducing caffeine intake can help reduce breast tenderness. Caffeine makes my breasts hurt more than ever, and I can definitely tell the difference between not drinking caffeine and drinking it. My breasts are so much less tender when I avoid caffeine.

3. Reduce fat in your diet and increase your vegetable intake.

Aim to reduce your fat intake to 20 percent or less of your daily calories. This makes a giant difference for me. If I eat a less fatty diet for a month, my breasts are much less tender and ache much less.

4. Take vitamins E, B6, and magnesium.

Although studies regarding the use of these products are inconclusive, many women have found relief by adding these vitamins to their diet.

  • It is recommended by some naturalists to take 600 IU per day of vitamin E, 50 mg per day of vitamin B6, and 300 mg per day of magnesium.

Personally, I find that if I take these supplements I feel much better and have less pain in my breasts before my period. I keep these vitamins in my desk and try to take them daily.

5. Take evening primrose oil.

Once again, studies are inconclusive on this subject; however, some women do report a reduction in breast tenderness when they try this food supplement. Experts do not know the exact reason why evening primrose oil works, but they suspect that it replaces linoleic acid, which can make the breasts less sensitive to hormonal changes.

I take primrose oil each night before bed, but I don't know if it helps or not. Some months I am really sore, and some months I sail through my period.

6. Apply ice packs to your breasts for 10 to 15 minutes when the pain is severe.

Do not apply the ice directly to your breasts. Place the ice in a plastic bag, and wrap with a dishtowel.

  • You may also try a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a dishtowel. The frozen vegetables conform to the shape of the breast and are not as large as ice cubes.

I have used bags of frozen peas or corn and they seem to give me relief—but it's definitely not a cure.

7. Take over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, Anacin, Tempra) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Midol, Advil).

Personally, painkillers don't usually help. My breasts are often too sore to cope with a pain reliever; however, I do know some people who get immense relief from OTC medications.

If desperate, ask your doctor about the benefits of tamoxifen and danazol in relieving breast pain. These drugs are short-term solutions for extreme pain and are considered as a last resort for those women who do not respond to other therapies. However, tamoxifen and danazol both have several unpleasant side effects.

8. Consider reducing estrogen use if you have had a hysterectomy.

Some women find relief by taking five days off a month from hormonal therapy, although this step should be closely monitored by a doctor.

Period Symptoms Can Be More Than Just Cramps

If you're like me, you have terrible breast pain for about a week or more before your period. Since I was eleven, I have had terrible periods and cramps, and my breasts swell and feel like heavy bags of cement before my period every month.

During this time, I wear two bras that hold my breasts in place. If I so much as brush up against something or even lightly touch them, it makes me want to scream. They hurt so much going up and down stairs, walking, running, exercise, and during sex. They feel very dense and are so tender—it's truly unbearable. It feels similar to when I was breastfeeding and was bursting, but this pain has no possibility of relief.

The pain and bloating are there until right before I get my period. After the first day of my cycle, the pain and swelling go away and my breasts return to their normal density and size. Looking for an explanation, I talked to my doctor and have also done a lot of research on the matter. If you experience this pain, there definitely are ways to make it easier.

What Is PMS?

PMS, or premenstrual syndrome, occurs because your body is sensitive to hormonal changes. In the week or 10 days before your period, hormone levels—especially those of progesterone and estrogen—change rapidly. At this point, progesterone levels climax, which leads to uncomfortable symptoms such as swollen and tender breasts. These hormones can cause other symptoms such as bloating, mood swings, headache, breast tenderness, and fatigue.

As many as 90% of women experience some symptoms before their period, according to a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, but fewer—20% or less—have symptoms severe enough to interfere with normal activities. I am one of these women. Personally, the only things that help relieve my symptoms are staying away from caffeine and eating right—two things that I am not the best at doing. I don't drink coffee or caffeine because my body can't handle caffeine at all—it makes my breasts so tender that I can't stand it.

Regardless of whether I drink caffeine or not, my breast still hurt due to the effect of hormones in my body. If I do drink caffeine it's worse—I even stick to caffeine-free soft drinks and I avoid coffee (even though I love it). I am fortunate that I have no taste for tea, so I do avoid tea as a source of caffeine.

I also tend to get emotional, to the point where it's ridiculous. However, I find that vitamin D helps me curb my sobbing and makes me feel much better. A high intake of calcium and vitamin D seems to reduce the risk of getting PMS. In fact, some experts have suggested that vitamin D and calcium deficiencies lead to PMS. Having said that, I make sure to take these two supplements daily, and I drink a lot of milk. I still get PMS every month, but these nutrients make the symptoms much more tolerable.

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    • lyoness913 profile imageAUTHOR

      Summer LeBlanc 

      3 years ago from H-Town

      Benny- I am fairly sure that my sugar intake is a part of it as well. I notice if I eat a lot of healthy fruits and vegetables, I also have less bloating and pain.

      Thanks for the comment!

      -Wendi

    • Benny01 profile image

      Ijeoma Peter 

      3 years ago from Lagos, Nigeria

      Lyoness, this article is ver helpful. I also experience breast pains before my period, but I have learnt to reduce my sugar intake two weeks prior to my period. Thanks for sharing.

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