Fibrocystic breasts are a common condition in which masses of bumpy tissue are found in the breasts. This is also referred to as glandular breast tissue. A large number of women have fibrocystic breasts at some point in their lives. Earlier this disease was known as fibrocystic breast disease but since the condition is so common and not serious in nature, it is now known simply as fibrocystic breast changes or fibrocystic breasts. These breast changes may result in tenderness and pain. Fibrocystic breast lumps are mostly present in the upper and outer parts of the breasts. The symptoms may become aggravated before menstruation. Natural treatments and self-care measures can offer some help in dealing with fibrocystic breasts.
Symptoms of Fibrocystic Breast
The most common fibrocystic breast symptoms include:
- Breast pain
- Masses or lumps in the breasts
- Changes in breast size
- Non-bloody discharge from the nipples
- Increase in pain and lumpiness between ovulation and start of the monthly period.
In most cases, fibrocystic breast changes are normal. However if there is a new lump or thickened area that remains even after menstruation, it is advisable to have it medically examined. You should also see a doctor in case of severe or increasing fibrocystic breast pain or if previously examined lumps have undergone changes.
Causes of Fibrocystic Breast
The exact causes of fibrocystic breasts are unknown, although it is believed that the hormones responsible for reproduction especially estrogen may play an important role. Microscopic examination of fibrocystic breast tissue shows fluid-filled cysts, scar-like fibrous tissue, excess growth of cells in the lining of the milk ducts and swollen breast lobules. Women with fibrocystic breasts are not at a higher risk of breast cancer unless there is an overgrowth of cells in the lining of the milk ducts and breast lobules. This is usually diagnosed after a breast biopsy.
Remedies for Fibrocystic Breast
Most cases of fibrocystic breasts do not require any treatment, especially if there are no symptoms. But severe pain or large cysts that sometimes occur due to fibrocystic breasts may require treatment. Fibrocystic breast treatment may involve fine needle aspiration in which a thin needle is used to drain the cysts in the breasts. This helps to relieve discomfort and pain. In rare cases surgery may be necessary to remove stubborn cysts that remain even after aspiration. For fibrocystic breast pain relief, you can make use of over-the-counter pain medications. In some cases oral contraceptives are also prescribed as they help to reduce hormonal changes that trigger fibrocystic breasts.
Some self-care tips that could help you cope with fibrocystic breasts include the following:
- Avoid consuming caffeinated beverages, alcohol, tea and soft drinks as they contain certain chemicals that can trigger the release of stress hormones in the body. These hormones may be associated with breast tenderness and lumps. Some studies have shown that women who refrained from consuming these liquids experienced reduced symptoms.
- Cold compresses are extremely effective in alleviating pain and tenderness. Put some ice cubes or crushed ice into a plastic bag, lie down and place the bag over the affected breast for about ten minutes. You can even use a bag of frozen peas. You can try applying a heat compress for 30 minutes and then a cold compress for ten minutes. These alternating treatments are known to help in alleviating fibrocystic breast discomfort.
- Place cool cabbage leaves over the breasts at night. This will help to reduce the size of the cysts and also relieves the pain.
- Vegetables obtained from the sea such as kelp and nori are rich in iodine. Some studies have indicated that women with iodine deficiencies may be prone to developing breast lumps. These vegetables are easily available in most supermarkets. You can also find them in the powdered form which can be used as a substitute for salt.
- Water retention usually occurs during the menstrual cycle and this can cause the breasts to become heavy and tender. Salt can aggravate the bloating and worsen the discomfort. Therefore it is advisable to avoid consuming salt a couple of weeks before periods. Also avoid processed foods that are rich in salt.
- Warm compresses are beneficial for reducing swelling and pain in the breasts. If you cannot tolerate ice packs, warm compresses are ideal for you. Dip a face towel in hot water and place over the affected breast for a few minutes. You can also use a heating pad. A great home remedy for fibrocystic breasts is a rice bag. To make a rice bag, fill a thick clean sock with raw rice. Tie the opening and then heat for 30 seconds in a microwave. Place this over the affected breasts after making sure that it is not too hot.
- Massage the affected breast with ginger oil. Then follow up with a hot compress to reduce lumps and pain.
- Research has indicated that essential fatty acids may be helpful in alleviating symptoms of fibrocystic breast changes. Primrose oil is a good source of linolenic, an essential fatty acid. However it is important to consult your doctor before taking any supplements.
- Some studies have shown that vitamin A may help to reduce breast pain. But the vitamin must not be taken in high doses as it can lead to toxicity in the body since it is stored in the body and not flushed out. Therefore it is preferable to incorporate beta-carotene in the diet. Beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A in the body. Fruits and vegetables that are orange, red and yellow in color are high in beta carotene. Since beta-carotene is water soluble, any excess amounts are easily flushed out of the body.
- Vitamin E is known to be beneficial in alleviating breast pain and tenderness. It may also help to reduce the size of breast lumps. You can obtain this vitamin from nuts, leafy green vegetables, fortified cereals and vegetable oils. You can also consult your doctor regarding the intake of vitamin E supplements.
Diet for Fibrocystic Breast
Most studies into the efficacy of diet therapy have so far been inconclusive, but it may help to make certain dietary changes:
- Vegetables: Cucumbers, parsley, cabbage and other vegetables work as natural diuretics that help to flush out excess fluids from the body. These are a better alternative to commercial diuretics that can also deplete your potassium levels and lead to imbalance in electrolyte levels. They may also affect glucose production.
- Whole grains: Fiber is present in substantial amounts in whole grain foods such as brown rice and whole wheat bread. Fiber helps to prevent fluctuations in hormonal levels that are usually responsible for fibrocystic breast changes. Fiber is also found in fruits and beans.
- Fish: Beneficial omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish such as mackerel, trout and salmon. These are rich in iodine and hence help to prevent the formation of breast lumps. Include a moderate amount of these fish in your diet.
- Garlic, mushrooms and onion promote oxygenation of the cells and this helps in resolving fibrocystic breast changes.
- Vitamin B6 helps to regulate hormonal levels in the body and can be found in foods such as garlic, bran and pistachio.
Avoid a high intake of meat since most poultry and meat are injected with hormones. This can upset your own hormonal balance especially at the time of menstruation. If you do wish to consume meats, opt for hormone-free poultry and meat which are usually available at health food stores.
Suggestions for Fibrocystic Breast
Here are some tips that can help in dealing with fibrocystic breast changes:
- Wear a well-fitted bra that offers adequate support to the breasts. This will ease tenderness and heaviness. Buy a bigger size bra if you find that your breasts swell before menstruation. You could also try using a well fitting sports bra.
- In case you experience tenderness in the breasts for the first time, take a pregnancy test since swelling and tenderness are some of the early signs of pregnancy.
- Practice regular exercise and follow a low-fat diet. This will help to maintain ideal body weight. Excess fat leads to an increase in estrogen levels and this can trigger changes in the breasts. Women who are overweight are more prone to breast discomfort.
- Avoid smoking as this can worsen pain and tenderness in the breasts.
- Ghent WR, Eskin BA, Low DA, Hill LP. Iodine replacement in fibrocystic disease of the breast. Can J Surg. 1993 Oct;36(5):453-60. PubMed PMID: 8221402.
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