Sore nipples and/or sore breasts are something you may experience at various times in your reproductive cycle (don’t be frightened off by the big words!). They can mean various things depending on what’s going on in your body at that time. So let’s talk about what sore nipples and sore breasts may mean for you.

Causes of sore nipples and breasts before menopause

There are 2 main reasons for sore nipples/breasts before menopause:

Post-ovulation - During your menstrual cycle the 2 main hormones at work are:

  • estrogen before ovulation and
  • progesterone which starts to act around the time of ovulation

Progesterone causes water to be retained in the body. The main reason for this is to prepare the uterus for a possible pregnancy by making the uterus rich in water and food for the anticipated pregnancy. Unfortunately, this same effect is felt throughout the body. Storing of water in the breast tissue causes it to become stretched leading to painful breasts and sore nipples.

It is much worse for some women than others. If you’ve had any trouble getting into your skinny jeans in the second half of your cycle, that’s what we’re talking about. If a pregnancy does not occur, progesterone levels start to fall about a week before your next period. Gradually, you pee out the water that your body has stored.

Causes of sore nipples and painful breasts – menopause and sore breasts

Sore breasts and nipples can occur as part of what is known as the climacteric syndrome. Symptoms of the climacteric syndrome include:

  • hot flashes,
  • sleeplessness,
  • weight gain and bloating,
  • mood changes,
  • irregular menstruation,
  • painful breasts
  • headaches

The climacteric syndrome is caused by wildly fluctuating hormone levels and irregular functioning of the ovaries. It is not caused by an absence of estrogen. That is why hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and oral contraceptives are sometimes prescribed to try and even out the hormone levels.

Sore nipples and breast cancer

Sore nipples can be a warning sign for breast cancer. In a condition known as Paget’s disease of the nipple, the nipple becomes irritated with redenning, pain and sometimes itching. It progresses gradually until the nipple is completely worn down. Paget’s disease of the nipple shows that there is an underlying cancer in the breast tissue. Any persistent irritation should be investigated by your doctor.