Breast tenderness related to menstruation

Originally Published: October 18, 2002 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: September 28, 2007
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Dear Alice,

I was just wondering about having a little discomfort in one of my breasts. I am on the pill and it usually occurs a week or two before my period and lasts about a week or so. My breast feels like it is bruised or something, like it is uncomfortable to lay on or even touch. Is this something to worry about or just an effect of the pill? Thanks.

Dear Reader,

Some women have breast discomfort or pain right before their period, while for others, this starts during ovulation and continues until their period begins. It is common, however, for a woman's breasts to feel "bruised" or extremely sensitive right before menstruation. Often times, breast discomfort is caused by fluctuations in hormone levels throughout the menstrual cycle (regardless if women are on the pill or not). Sometimes birth control pills are prescribed to help alleviate this achiness or tenderness. In addition, that bruised feeling can be a side effect of the pill.

Some women have breast discomfort or pain that is bilateral, meaning that it affects both breasts. Other women only experience discomfort in one breast, which may be because one breast has more tissue than the other. While the medical community has a general understanding of female hormones and their roles in women's bodies, there are still questions about how the hormones affect other parts of the body, including the breasts.

While it is likely that the "bruised" feeling you describe is a side effect of the pill, it's recommended that you check your breasts throughout your cycle to find out what is "normal" for you, as a baseline. You can do this by taking note, literally on a calendar, of any discomfort before and during your period. Then, once you have been off your active pills for seven days, you can do a breast self-exam. Check for any unusual lumps, increased areas of sensitivity or pain, or other changes that may be a cause of concern. If you detect something or just want reassurance, you can make an appointment to see your health care provider. Columbia students can make an appointment with a health care provider by calling x4-2284 or logging on to Open Communicator.

Detailed instructions on how to do a breast self-exam can be found in Alice!'s archived answers Breast lump and Bloody greenish discharge from my nipples — Should I be concerned?. For more information about healthy breasts, breast problems, and diagnosis, check out Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book.

Alice