Until you experience a certain menopausal symptom, you might never fully understand what your sister has been telling you. For example, breast pain or mastalgia. Hearing about menopausal breast discomforts, were to me, like learning about menstrual cramps or so I thought. Menstrual cramps were, or, are as real as cramps can be. The young woman knows what it is and that it will be over until the following month.
Breast pain during menopause is absolutely different. Being older, and wiser, and with 30 or more years of stories, tales, anecdotes, and experiences not only about the breast and menstruation and menopause; but about various diseases and the symbolic meaning of the breast to womanhood; untold unimaginable images begin to cloud the mind of the older woman.
The Meaning of Breast Discomfort to Women
Women are aware that some stories might emerge from old wives tales. The realities however, are that some women experience real pain of the breasts that are related to: menstruation, cysts, surgery, lactation, mastitis, abscess, and peri-menopause or menopause, and cancer.
When an older woman experiences pain in the breast, her thoughts are not limited to the possibilities of the pain being due to an abscess or a local infection; or just to menopause. No, most women begin to think of the Big C, yes cancer, of death and dying, and fear becomes real.
My personal experience was no different. One morning, I woke with a real life experience of severe pain in my right breast. It felt like a very strong muscle contract; as if my breast was becoming a ball and was about to turn inside out. The pain was so severe; I could not lift my arm above my shoulder.
I am a Christian and a Registered Nurse. Initially, these truths did not confirm the idea that this pain could be due to menopause, though it briefly crossed my mind. No, my most dominant thought was that this pain could be cancer. I thought about my paternal grandmother who died from breast cancer; about family, friends and even strangers who were afflicted with any type of cancer, and in particular, with breast cancer.
After suffering through the pain and my thoughts all day, I took a long hot shower, allowing the hot water to run over, massage, and to soothe my breast. And I prayed. My prayer included recognition of God for being the same yesterday, today, and for evermore; the same God who performed great miracles when Jesus walked the earth. And just telling Him that I know he did miracles then, and that He can do it again. I woke the next morning, and the pain was almost gone. Within 48 hours, it is as if nothing had happened to my breast (and I believe that the pain is gone for ever).
What also kept me partially grounded in believing that the pain could probably be due to menopause was the “electric shock” (an electric-like feeling that is associated with menopause) that had occurred in the same breast for several hours the day before the real pain had began. Prior to this experience, I had encountered electric shock in other parts of my body.
Electric shock is not painful. It occurs infrequently. My previous experiences were not associated with after pain. They had no pattern of when or where in the body they occurred. They came and went, starting and stopping within a few minutes, then disappearing.
Types of Breast Discomforts
Discomfort and pain of the breasts is not unusual during menopause. It is listed among the 34 menopausal symptoms. It is important to differentiate between breast discomforts that might be due to menopause and other conditions that might need medical attention. Women are being advised to seek medical attention for pain or discomfort of the breasts; and to insist on having a sonogram or mammogram to aid a definite diagnosis. Some conditions of the breasts with or without discomfort that require a follow up with a health care provider include fibrocystic cysts (also known as – chronic cystic mastitis, mammary dysplasia, cystic breasts, cystic disease); if lactating with painful breasts (breasts feel full, heavy); mastitis (redness, fever); abscess (might be due to staphylococcus aureus); and benign or cancerous tumors to name a few.
I had heard about breast pain and menopause but never thought it could have been so painful until my own experience. After sharing my experience with other menopausal women, I was affirmed that perceptions and experiences are frequently unique. Although I am inclined to believe that my breast pain was one of the 34 menopausal symptoms, I am following through with my doctor to have a mammogram in order to stop my guessing whether this breast pain was indeed due to menopause. As soon as I get the result, I will share the outcome.