Galactorrhea (guh-lack-toe-REE-uh) is a milky nipple discharge unrelated to the normal milk production of breast-feeding. Galactorrhea itself isn't a disease, but it could be a sign of an underlying problem. It usually occurs in women, even those who have never had children or after menopause. But galactorrhea can happen in men and even in infants.
Excessive breast stimulation, medication side effects or disorders of the pituitary gland all may contribute to galactorrhea. Often, galactorrhea results from increased levels of prolactin, the hormone that stimulates milk production.
Sometimes, the cause of galactorrhea can't be determined. The condition may resolve on its own.
Signs and symptoms associated with galactorrhea include:
When to see a doctor
If breast stimulation — such as excessive nipple manipulation during sexual activity — triggers nipple discharge from multiple ducts, there is little cause for worry. The discharge probably doesn't signal breast cancer, but you should still see a doctor for evaluation.
Nonmilky nipple discharge — particularly bloody, yellow or clear spontaneous discharge that comes from one duct or is associated with a lump you can feel — requires prompt medical attention, as it may be a sign of an underlying breast cancer.
Galactorrhea often results from too much prolactin — the hormone responsible for milk production (lactation) when you have a baby. Prolactin is produced by your pituitary gland, a marble-sized gland at the base of your brain that secretes and regulates several hormones.
Possible causes of galactorrhea include:
Galactorrhea in men
Galactorrhea in newborns
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner. However, you may be referred to a breast health specialist instead.
What you can do
For galactorrhea, possible questions to ask your doctor include:
What to expect from your doctor
What you can do in the meantime
Tests and diagnosis
Finding the underlying cause of galactorrhea can be a complex task because there are so many possibilities.
Testing may involve:
If your doctor suspects a medicine you're taking might be the cause of galactorrhea, your doctor might instruct you to stop taking the medicine for a short time to assess this possible cause.
Treatments and drugs
When needed, treatment focuses on resolving the underlying cause of galactorrhea.
Sometimes doctors can't determine an exact cause of galactorrhea. Your doctor might recommend treatment anyway if you have bothersome or embarrassing nipple discharge. In such instances, you might be given a medication to block the effects of prolactin or to lower the amount of prolactin in your body. Reducing prolactin levels may eliminate galactorrhea.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Often, the milky discharge associated with idiopathic galactorrhea goes away on its own, particularly if you can avoid breast stimulation or other potential causes for the discharge.
To minimize breast stimulation:
You could also use breast pads to protect yourself from leaks that might otherwise be embarrassing.
Last Updated: 2013-01-17
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