The Science Behind Breast Soreness and Hormones

If you’re experiencing breast pain, you may be asking yourself some concerning questions. Am I pregnant? Could it be cancer? Before jumping to conclusions, it’s important to remember that occasional breast soreness is fairly common among women of all ages. In fact, statistics show between 50 to 70 percent of women experience breast pain according to California Pacific Medical Center.

Hormone fluctuations are often to blame for tenderness felt in the breasts or nipples. The hormones estrogen and progesterone are responsible for breast development. During pregnancy, these hormones also control lactation for breastfeeding. The hormone progesterone helps regulate the menstrual cycle and works in conjunction with estrogen to help maintain female reproductive health.

Cyclical Pain vs. Noncyclical Pain

The two main types of breast pain are cyclical or noncyclical. Cyclical pain occurs during a woman’s menstrual cycle. This kind of pain typically occurs in both breasts and can be described as soreness or heaviness that sometimes spans from the breast to the armpit or arm. Cyclical pain is usually most severe just before the start of a menstrual period and diminishes when the period ends.

Noncyclical breast pain is discomfort caused by something other than a menstrual period. This type of pain is less common and thus harder to target the cause. Noncyclical pain is offered referred to as ‘trigger zone pain’ as it occurs in one particular area. You may experience pain in one breast or both, and the intensity can vary from mild to severe depending on the underlying problem.

Hormones and Breast Tenderness

Breast soreness is common in women who have menstrual periods or are undergoing hormone replacement therapy (HRT). This discomfort develops when the tissue in the breasts respond to hormones. Before your period, your body experiences an increase in estrogen. This rise in hormones causes the glands and milk ducts in your breasts to swell, causing soreness leading up and sometimes throughout your menstrual cycle.

While hormonal breast soreness is normal, the pain should not be severe. If you experience breast pain that lasts more than one week or is very severe in nature, consult with your doctor. You’ll also want to consider other reasons for your soreness, such as an ill-fitting bra, injury to the breast, excessive stress, the overconsumption of caffeine, strenuous activity, or the use of certain medications.

Most women experience soreness in their breasts at least one time in their life. While uncomfortable, breast pain is generally not life-threatening. As tender breasts can be an early sign of pregnancy, it’s important to take a pregnancy test if you’ve recently had unprotected sex. Also check for other signs such as a missed period, an increase in your need to urinate, increased fatigue, or abnormal cravings. It’s a good idea to see your doctor if the pain gets worse, doesn’t go away, or you experience any symptoms of infection, such as redness, swelling, or warmth in your breasts.