Galactorrhea is a milky nipple discharge unrelated to the normal milk production of breast-feeding. Galactorrhea itself isn't a disease, but it's a sign of an underlying problem. Although it occurs most often in women, galactorrhea can happen in men and even sometimes 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, and the condition goes away on its own.
Signs and symptoms associated with galactorrhea include:
When to see a doctor
If breast stimulation 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 if the discharge is bloody, yellow or clear and is occurring from one duct — requires urgent medical evaluation, 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, in some cases when you call to set up an appointment, you may be referred immediately to a breast health specialist.
What you can do
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 medication use as the cause of galactorrhea, you might be instructed to stop taking the medicine for a short time, during which your doctor can 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, but it needs to be treated anyway. This might be the case if you experience 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 galactorrhea goes away on its own. Until that time, minimize the likelihood of nipple discharge by avoiding stimulating your breasts. These tips may help:
You could also use breast pads to protect yourself from leaks that might otherwise be embarrassing.
Last Updated: 2010-07-22
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