Breast pain isn’t just a menstrual complaint

Although menopause eliminates the breast pain and swelling associated with menstrual periods, that doesn't mean that breast pain disappears forever, reports the July issue of Harvard Women's Health Watch.

Breast pain unrelated to the hormonal changes of the menstrual cycle can raise fears of breast cancer—at any age. Fortunately, cancer is seldom the cause. Harvard Women's Health Watch says that noncyclical breast pain is more likely a symptom of one of these conditions:

  • Infection of the breast or an abscess, which can also cause fever and breast swelling, redness, and tenderness.
  • Injury. Any trauma to the breast can cause localized pain that may last for weeks or months.
  • Medications. Apart from hormone drugs, the most common medications to cause breast pain are cardiovascular and psychiatric medications.
  • Support problems. Large breasts may stretch ligaments and tissues, causing pain in the shoulders, back, neck, and breasts.
  • Conditions outside the breast. Strain in the muscles near the breast, inflammation of the cartilage that joins the ribs to the breastbone, connective tissue diseases, arthritis, or shingles can all cause breast pain. Occasionally, heart disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or lung problems may be felt as breast pain.

Harvard Women's Health Watch reports that treatments include ice packs, warm compresses, massage, and occasional use of pain relievers. Many women report relief from avoiding nicotine and caffeine. Some research has shown that a very-low-fat diet (15%–20% of daily calories from fat) can reduce breast tenderness and swelling.

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