Breast Swelling and Tenderness

Breast pain is quite common in women—nearly 70 percent of experience it at some point in their lives—and the symptom been associated with PMS. However, recent studies have shown breast pain that regularly occurs before a woman’s period, known cyclical mastalgia, may not be a PMS symptom after all.


The medical term for breast pain is mastalgia. Cyclical mastalgia or PMS-associated breast pain is pain that worsens in the premenstrual phase and is relieved when a woman gets her period.

When you have PMS, your breasts may feel full, engorged, achy, and painful to the touch; they may even feel bumpy or lumpy (although some women have naturally bumpy breasts).PMS-related breast pain and swelling can range from mild discomfort to severe pain, and one or both breasts may be affected. Approximately 8 to percent of women experience moderate to severe breast pain before their periods. These symptoms typically peak just before the onset the period and subside immediately after or during menses.

Some studies have shown that having breast pain before your period is not associated with PMS. A 1999 study by researchers at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland, of thirty-two women with cyclical breast pain found that 82 percent the women did not have PMS. A 2003 study in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology found that women with breast pain might have wider milk ducts than women without pain. The more dilated the women’s milk ducts were, the more pain they felt. These findings are leading many experts to rethink the causes of this classic PMS symptom.


Some women have naturally lumpy breasts, a benign condition known as fibrocystic breasts (discussed later in this chapter). However, contact your doctor if you feel any unusual lumps or bumps in your breasts. Women should perform breast self-exams monthly!

The hormones estrogen and progesterone, which signal the milkproducing glands in the breasts to grow, are responsible for PMS-related pain and swelling. During the menstrual cycle, estrogen production increases and peaks just before mid-cycle. Estrogen causes the breast ducts to enlarge. Meanwhile progesterone, which peaks before your period, causes growth of the breast lobules. As areas around the glands expand with blood and other fluids to nourish the cells, they can cause nerve fibers to stretch, which results in a sense of pain.

In other words, if your breasts become painful during the luteal phase, it may have more to do with the physical structure of your breasts than with PMS. You simply have wider milk ducts become more dilated in the second half of your cycle, and you not even experience other PMS symptoms. For all practical purposes, if you feel cyclical breast pain during the second half of your you—and your doctor—probably consider it PMS.


Milk-producing breast tissue includes lobes, lobules, and ducts. Each breast has between fifteen and twenty lobes, which branch into smaller lobules, and eventually into many tiny bulbs. Milk is in the bulbs and is carried by ducts into the nipples.

There are some risk factors for breast tenderness and including family history and diet, both of which are also risk for premenstrual syndrome in general. Caffeine, which contains stimulants called methylxanthines, and salt, which causes are two common dietary offenders that can exacerbate swelling. Eliminating caffeine and salt, or at least cutting back them, may improve your symptoms.

In many cases, doctors prescribe oral contraceptives to breast pain and swelling. But for some women, oral contraceptives actually worsen these symptoms. If you are one of the women symptoms get worse while taking oral contraceptives, visit your to see if you can take a different contraceptive pill.

Is it PMS?

Premenstrual syndrome may be the most common reason for breast tenderness, but it is not the only reason. First, is the pain cyclical? If so, do your breasts feel lumpy or bumpy during the premenstrual phase? If they do, you may have fibrocystic breasts. Contact your physician any time you feel any unusual lumps or bumps in your breasts.

Other possible causes of breast swelling and tenderness, besides PMS, include:

  • Benign growths or cysts

  • Pregnancy

  • Fibrocystic breast condition

  • Infection (if breastfeeding)

  • Blocked milk duct (if breastfeeding)

  • Muscle exertion

  • Hormone treatments

  • Oral contraceptives

Fibrocystic Breast Condition

Fibrocystic breast condition, which is related to hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle, is common among women between the ages of thirty and fifty; more than 50 percent of women have it. Typically, fibrocystic breasts feel lumpy and tender, and there are areas of thickening, with fluid-filled bumps called cysts, scar-like tissue, and pain. Although they can form anywhere in the breasts, lumps are usually felt along the upper and outer part of the breast, near the armpit. The lumps tend to be smooth and rounded, and they are not attached to other breast tissue.


Cysts are just one symptom of fibrocystic breasts. They form when the lymph system stores fluid in pockets of breast tissue. Eventually, fibrous tissue surrounds the fluid-filled pockets, thickens, and forms cysts.

Over the course of the menstrual cycle, these breast lumps may increase or decrease in size, and during the premenstrual phase, fibrocystic breasts are even more sensitive and tender. Symptoms usually abate with menopause, unless a woman is taking hormone replacement therapy.

The condition of having lumpy breasts used to be known “fibrocystic breast disease.” But since half of all women have breasts, most physicians now avoid the terms disease or even Instead, lumpy breasts are more commonly referred to breast condition, fibrocystic breast change, fibrocystic disease (favored by doctors in the past), or cystic disease.

Noncyclical Breast Pain

As the name implies, noncyclical breast pain is not tied menstrual cycle. Pain does not alternately worsen or improve the course of the month but remains steady. In addition, women this type of pain experience it in a specific area of the breast, the site of an injury or at the site of a breast biopsy.


One cause of noncyclical pain is costochondritis, a type of arthritic at the breastbone, where the ribs and breastbone meet. Women this condition often describe a burning sensation within the breast, although in reality the pain is coming from the bone. Costochondritis caused by trauma or aging and can be exacerbated by poor posture.

Noncyclical breast pain most frequently occurs in women between the ages of forty and fifty. Part of this has to do with the aging process; some noncyclical pain is related to arthritis. Doctors have also found that physical stress and muscle exertion can cause breast pain. In this case, the chest-wall muscles hurt, but it is perceived as breast pain.

Noncyclical pain often subsides after one or two years and is not usually a sign of breast cancer, although you should consult your doctor about this condition.

Is the Pain Cyclical?

If you’ve confirmed that your breast pain is not related to pregnancy or infection, injury or stress, there are ways to manage it. For one, wear a good bra. Many times, moderate pain becomes excruciating because breasts have poor support. Second, treat the symptoms with over-the-counter pain relievers like Motrin or use hot and cold packs to manage pain and reduce swelling.

Here are a few tips to manage your aching breasts:

  • Wear a supportive bra.

  • Exercise.Sometimes moving around may help relieve the pain and reduce stress, which exacerbates pain.

  • Use ice to relieve swelling and heat packs to ease pain.

  • Reduce salt and caffeine, which anecdotal evidence suggests may relieve swelling.

  • Maintain a low-fat diet.There is some anecdotal evidence that too much dietary fat causes breast pain and swelling.

  • Take vitamins B6, B1, and Ewhich have helped some women relieve pain. Some research shows that vitamin B6, in particular, helps relieve PMS symptoms, especially breast pain.

  • Try evening primrose. This herb is believed to help reduce pain.

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  3. Physical Symptoms, Part One
  4. Breast Swelling and Tenderness
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