Definition

What is galactorrhea?

Galactorrhea 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.

How common is galactorrhea?

Galactorrhoea is much more common in women than in men. It is most common in women of reproductive age, but can occur in nulliparous women, menopausal women, and men. In women it may be physiological but in men it is always pathological. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of galactorrhea?

The common symptoms of galactorrhea are:

  • Persistent or intermittent milky nipple discharge
  • Nipple discharge involving multiple milk ducts
  • Spontaneously leaked or manually expressed nipple discharge
  • One or both breasts affected
  • Absent or irregular menstrual periods
  • Headaches or vision problems

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor? 

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes galactorrhea?

Galactorrhea has many causes, some of which include the following:

  • Tumors (usually benign, or not cancerous), especially tumors of the pituitary gland, which is located in the brain
  • Medicines such as hormones, antidepressants, blood pressure medicines and certain tranquilizers
  • Herbal supplements such as nettle, fennel, blessed thistle, anise and fenugreek seed
  • Drugs such as marijuana and opiates
  • Pregnancy
  • Clothing that irritates the breasts (such as scratchy wool shirts or bras that don’t fit well)
  • Doing very frequent breast self-exams (daily exams)
  • Stimulation of the breast during sexual activity
  • Kidney disease
  • Oral contraceptives
  • An underactive thyroid (also called hypothyroidism), which is a gland that produces hormones
  • Sometimes the cause of galactorrhea can’t be found.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for galactorrhea?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is galactorrhea diagnosed?

Your doctor might order blood tests to check your hormone levels and to see if you are pregnant. Your doctor might also want you to have an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan of your head to see if you have a tumor or abnormality of the pituitary gland.

Tests are not always needed if you and your doctor can figure out what is causing your galactorrhea.

How is galactorrhea treated?

When needed, galactorrhea treatment focuses on resolving the underlying cause.

Sometimes doctors can’t determine an exact cause of galactorrhea. Your doctor might recommend treatment anyway if you have bothersome or persistent 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 the prolactin level in your body may eliminate galactorrhea.

Medication use

Stop taking medication, change dose or switch to another medication. Make medication changes only if your doctor says it’s OK to do so.

Underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism)

Take a medication, such as levothyroxine, to counter insufficient hormone production by your thyroid gland (thyroid replacement therapy).

Pituitary tumor (prolactinoma)

Use a medication to shrink the tumor or have surgery to remove it.

Unknown cause

Try a medication to lower your prolactin level, such as bromocriptine (Parlodel, Cycloset) or cabergoline, and minimize or stop milky nipple discharge. Side effects of these medications commonly include nausea, dizziness and headaches.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage galactorrhea?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with galactorrhea:

  • Don’t stimulate your nipples during sexual activity
  • Avoid performing frequent breast self-exams, manipulating your nipples
  • Wear clothing that minimizes friction between the fabric and your nipples

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: August 28, 2017 | Last Modified: August 28, 2017