Galactorrhea

Overview

What is galactorrhea?

Galactorrhea (say: “gal-act-tor-ee-ah”) is a condition that occurs when one or both breasts make milk (or a milky discharge). The breasts may leak only when the breasts are touched or with no stimulation. It can occur in women or in men, but is less common in men. A woman who has galactorrhea produces milk even though she is not breastfeeding a baby.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of galactorrhea?

The symptoms of galactorrhea can include the following:

  • Milky white discharge from one of both nipples (discharge may also be yellow or greenish in color). If the fluid coming from your breast is reddish, your doctor may want to check you for cancer. Blood in the discharge is not galactorrhea.
  • An absence of menstrual periods or periods that are not regular
  • Headaches
  • Vision loss
  • Less interest in sex
  • Increase in hair growth on your chin or chest
  • Acne
  • Erectile dysfunction and less interest in sex in men

Causes

What causes galactorrhea?

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

Sometimes the cause of galactorrhea can’t be found.

  • Tumors (usually benign, or not cancerous), especially tumors of the pituitary (say: “pit-too-it-terry”) 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

Diagnosis

What tests might my doctor order?

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.

Treatment

How is galactorrhea treated?

Treatment depends on what is causing the galactorrhea. If a tumor is causing your symptoms, most tumors that cause galactorrhea are not cancerous. They can be treated with medicine or surgery. If a certain medicine you are taking is causing your galactorrhea, your doctor may prescribe a different medicine. In many cases, no treatment is necessary, and the condition goes away on its own with time. Until it goes away, here are some things you can do to help:

  • Avoid stimulating your breasts.
  • Avoid touching your nipples during sexual activity.
  • Don’t do breast self-exams more than one time a month.
  • Avoid tight-fitting clothing or clothing that causes friction.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • I’m a woman. Do I need a pregnancy test or other tests?
  • I’m a man. Why is this happening? Do I need any tests?
  • What do the test results mean?
  • What is the likely cause of my galactorrhea?
  • What are my treatment options? What treatment do you recommend?
  • Can I make any changes at home to help relieve my symptoms?