What is galactorrhea?
Galactorrhea happens when one or both breasts unexpectedly produce milk or a milk-like discharge. This nipple discharge may leak from the breast on its own or when the breast is touched. The condition occurs most often in women but can also develop in men and children.
How common is galactorrhea?
Galactorrhea is most common in women aged 20 to 35 and those who have previously given birth.
Symptoms and Causes
What causes galactorrhea?
Doctors do not always know what causes galactorrhea. The most common cause is a pituitary tumor, a usually benign (not cancerous) growth on the pituitary gland. Other causes include:
- Being pregnant
- Taking medications including birth control pills, blood pressure medicine, or antidepressants
- Over stimulating the breasts (through sexual activity or frequent self-exams)
- Thyroid disorders
- Chronic kidney disease
- Wearing clothing that rubs or scratches the breasts
What are the symptoms of galactorrhea?
Milky nipple discharge when a person is not breastfeeding is the main symptom of galactorrhea. Other signs of the condition may include:
Diagnosis and Tests
How is galactorrhea diagnosed?
Doctors usually diagnose galactorrhea with a physical exam and medical history. Your doctor will ask about your lifestyle and any medicines you take.
If needed, two tests can confirm diagnosis:
Management and Treatment
How is galactorrhea managed or treated?
Treatment for galactorrhea varies depending on the cause of the condition. In some people, it goes away on its own without any treatment.
To manage the condition, your doctor may recommend:
- Avoiding the action or conditions that cause the condition
- Stopping or changing medications that cause the condition
- Taking medication to manage the production of prolactin
In cases where a pituitary tumor causes galactorrhea, the tumor is usually benign (not cancerous). If the tumor does not cause any other complications, your doctor may determine that treatment is unnecessary.
If your doctor recommends treatment for a pituitary tumor, it usually involves medication to shrink the tumor or stop the production of prolactin. In rare cases, doctors use surgery or radiation therapy to remove or shrink a pituitary tumor.
What complications are associated with galactorrhea?
Some medicines used to treat galactorrhea may involve complications including infertility and vision problems.
Sometimes a pituitary tumor causes levels of estrogen (female hormones) in the body to decrease. Women with low estrogen levels are at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis (fragile and brittle bones). Your doctor may recommend taking oral contraceptives containing estrogen to decrease this risk.
Can galactorrhea be prevented?
It is difficult to prevent galactorrhea. Identifying the cause can help you avoid the condition. To reduce your risk of developing galactorrhea, avoid:
- Repeatedly stimulating your breasts and nipples
- Conducting breast exams more often than one time per month
- Wearing clothes that rub or scratch the breasts
What are the risk factors for galactorrhea?
People at higher risk for galactorrhea include women between the ages of 20 to 35 and those who have previously given birth.
Outlook / Prognosis
What is the prognosis (outlook) for people with galactorrhea?
Galactorrhea often goes away without treatment. Avoiding the causes of the condition is the best way to keep it from occurring.
If a pituitary tumor causes galactorrhea, your doctor may want you to have a yearly CT or MRI to look for signs of growth.
When should I call my doctor?
Contact your doctor if one or both of your breasts unexpectedly begin producing milk.
What questions should I ask my doctor?
If you have galactorrhea, you may want to ask your doctor:
- What is causing my breasts to discharge?
- What lifestyle changes can I make to stop it from occurring?
- If I have a tumor, how likely is it that I have cancer?
- If a tumor is causing galactorrhea, what are my treatment options?
When can I go back to my regular activities?
Most people with galactorrhea do not have to stop their regular activities. Some people use breast pads (absorbent liners placed in the bra or with adhesive) to contain milk leakage under their clothes.