(W)racked with Pain: Breast Tenderness During Perimenopause

http://www.shmirshky.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Ellen_Dolgen_Menopause_Monday.jpgHot flashes. Mood swings. Weight gain. Osteoporosis. Just a few of the many symptoms of perimenopause and menopause. Add breast tenderness to that never-ending laundry list. For some women, "tenderness" is a gross (and I mean gross!) understatement.

It's ironic, isn't it? From our "tender" preteen days, most of us couldn't wait until that first sign of womanhood. We couldn't wait to buy — and wear — our first training bra.

Of course, you've got to be careful what you wish for. My daughter, Sarah, was a late bloomer and prayed for boobs. They didn't appear on the scene until she was about 18 or so. Fast forward 16 years, Sarah now writes a wonderful blog called, smilescurlsandbaby – lessons, joys, and laughs in baby making and life! She found pregnancy took her breasts to a whole new letter, “Ain’t Nothin’ But a G-Thang….Baby….”! Now if only we could train our breasts to not be so sore all the time!

Now if only we could train our breasts to not be so sore all the time!

Intimacy Interruptus

Pregnancy is not the only life cycle phase that can affect intimacy. During perimenopause, sore breasts can cause marital intimacy to suffer as well. "My breasts are off-limits to my husband when I'm mid-cycle" said one perimenopausal friend. "He can't even look at them without getting the 'evil eye' from me! My breasts are so painful that sometimes I can't even bear to have the shower head pointed toward them."

Another woman told me there's no way she can sleep on her stomach. And mammograms are out of the question. She suggested that clinics make accommodations for women who suffer from painful breasts. She said she'd probably pass out if she had to undergo a mammogram when her breasts are tender. Since her periods (and thus her sore breasts) are unpredictable, she wishes a few appointment slots could be kept open each month. That way, women like her could make last-minute appointments when their breasts are not tender.

Can you relate? Are you yearning to go back in time to the '60s, when bra-burning was popular? Throughout our lives, MC Hammer's "Can't Touch This" appears to be a recurring theme. It's important to note that breast tenderness is manageable and is unlikely to indicate a serious problem.

A Different Kind of Fluid Retention

As your period nears, extra fluid in your breasts can make them feel more tender, lumpy, or swollen than other times of the month. Without a normal cycle to count on, it becomes pretty much impossible for perimenopausal women to know when those breasts are going to start throbbing, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Your hormone levels change in perimenopause. This can make your breasts feel tender, even when you are not having your menstrual period. Your breasts may also feel more lumpy than they did before.

If you're taking hormones (such asmenopausal hormone therapy, birth control pills, orinjections) your breasts may become more dense. This can make a mammogram harder to interpret. Be sure to let your health care provider know if you are taking hormones.

The Shape of Things to Come

To make matters worse, without regular estrogen supply, your breasts can become dehydrated, inelastic, shrink, and lose their shape, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Blame it on hormones. Say ta-ta to perky tatas, and hello to sagging breasts! (It gives a whole new meaning to the term "floppy discs.")

Come perimenopause and menopause time, those hormonal ebbs and flows can become a veritable rollercoaster ride. Some post-menopausal women also experience breast discomfort. Your breasts don't have to hurt, however. Following are several treatment options to consider:

The Progesterone Approach

Estrogen levels typically fall as you approach menopause. During perimenopause, however, they can increase. Dr. Jerilynn C. Prior, an authority on menstrual cycles and the effects of hormones on women's health, notes that in perimenopause, estrogen is high but progesterone is not.

Progesterone treatments can keep estrogen peaks from over-stimulating the breasts and causing discomfort, according to Dr. Prior. If you’re still menstruating (even haphazardly), progesterone treatment is typically prescribed for use during only a certain portion of the cycle, usually for about six months.

How about Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)?

Natural progesterone can also help alleviate breast soreness. Natural progesterone, identical to the hormone the body produces, is often easier to tolerate.

A word of warning: If you are on hormone replacement therapy and suddenly experience breast tenderness be sure to go back to your menopause specialist and have your HRT tweaked a bit. It is possible that you are on too much estrogen.

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