Nipple Discharge

Nipple discharge can be normal in women or people assigned female at birth (AFAB). It’s always abnormal in men or people assigned male at birth (AMAB). Hormones, lactation or sexual arousal can be normal causes for nipple discharge. Abnormal causes could be from tumors, infection or rarely, breast cancer.

Overview

What is nipple discharge?

Nipple discharge is when fluid leaks from your nipple in one or both breasts. It’s most common in women or people assigned female at birth (AFAB) in late pregnancy and immediately after childbirth. Nipple discharge happens for many reasons. Most of the time, there are normal, harmless reasons why people AFAB have nipple discharge even when they aren’t pregnant or lactating. However, nipple discharge may be a symptom of a serious medical condition.

Nipple discharge is always abnormal in men or people assigned male at birth (AMAB).

It’s important to have a healthcare provider examine your breasts and determine the cause of any nipple discharge.

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What kind of nipple discharge is normal?

Nipple discharge may be OK if:

  • It’s clear, yellow, brown, green or white.
  • It comes from both breasts.
  • It occurs only if you squeeze your nipples.
  • It comes from several milk (breast) ducts.

Nipple discharge is typically NOT OK if:

  • It’s bloody. Bloody discharge is almost always concerning.
  • It comes out of only one breast.
  • It comes out on its own (without you touching or squeezing your nipple).
  • It’s accompanied by symptoms like breast pain, redness, swelling or changes to your nipple.

Nipple discharge color

Color isn’t very useful when it comes to diagnosing nipple discharge. White, clear, yellow and brown nipple discharge could be normal, but it could also be abnormal. Bloody or pink nipple discharge is usually a sign of a problem.

The color of your nipple discharge typically depends on the cause. For example, yellow discharge usually indicates an infection, while greenish brown or black may suggest mammary duct ectasia.

Texture or consistency may also be a factor in finding a cause for nipple discharge. Depending on the cause, nipple discharge can be thin, thick or tacky like glue.

Possible Causes

What are the most common causes of nipple discharge?

Nipple discharge is rarely a sign of something serious, like breast cancer. Causes of harmless nipple discharge include:

  • Hormonal imbalances or changes (like during menstruation or menopause).
  • Pregnancy or breastfeeding (chestfeeding).
  • Medications, including birth control pills and some antidepressants.
  • Noncancerous cysts.
  • Nipple stimulation or friction from clothing.
  • Sexual arousal.
  • Injury to your breast.
  • Stress.

Healthcare providers consider nipple discharge abnormal when it occurs spontaneously (not caused by breast stimulation), is bloody or only occurs in one breast. Health conditions that may cause abnormal nipple discharge include:

It’s also normal for newborn babies to have a little nipple discharge. Hormones from their birth parent during pregnancy cause this to happen. It should go away on its own within a few weeks. People who breastfeed may also leak milk-like fluid after ending breastfeeding.

It’s always best to check with a healthcare provider so they can rule out any serious conditions causing nipple discharge.

What does breast cancer nipple discharge look like?

Nipple discharge that’s bloody or clear may be a sign of breast cancer. This is especially true if it’s leaking from just one breast. People with nipple discharge due to cancer often feel a lump on their breast, as well. Still, breast cancer rarely causes most nipple discharge.

Does stress cause nipple discharge?

Yes. There are studies that show stress causes nipple discharge. This is due to increases in the hormone prolactin, which is responsible for lactation.

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Care and Treatment

How is nipple discharge diagnosed?

Healthcare providers diagnose nipple discharge with a physical exam and discussion of your medical history. Tests they use to identify the cause of the discharge include:

  • Imaging: Your provider may order tests like a mammogram (breast X-ray), ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to help them find a cause.
  • Biopsy: If a physical exam or imaging tests show an abnormality, your provider may take a sample of breast tissue for further testing.
  • Hormone blood test: Your provider takes a blood sample to measure thyroid and prolactin levels.
  • Ductogram: Your provider injects a contrast dye into your milk ducts and then looks at your ducts with a mammogram.

How is nipple discharge treated?

Treatment for nipple discharge depends on the cause. Your treatment may involve:

  • Changing or stopping a medication.
  • Removing a lump or cyst.
  • Taking out a milk duct.
  • Medications like antibiotics for breast infections.
  • Treating the condition causing the discharge.

If there’s no apparent cause for your nipple discharge, you may not need any treatment. Leaving your nipples alone and not squeezing them may be the only treatment. Your healthcare provider may recommend a follow-up exam or mammogram just to be sure.

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When should I be concerned about nipple discharge?

Nipple discharge is concerning when:

  • You’re a man or assigned male at birth (AMAB).
  • The discharge is bloody.
  • It only comes from one nipple and not from both.
  • It comes out even when you don’t touch or squeeze it.
  • You also have a lump, breast pain or other unusual symptoms.
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When to Call the Doctor

When should I call a healthcare provider about nipple discharge?

Contact a healthcare provider about any nipple discharge that’s new, that lasts longer than a few weeks or if the discharge:

  • Comes from one breast only.
  • Happens without breast stimulation.
  • Is pink or bloody.
  • Develops in a man, boy or person AMAB.
  • Occurs in women or people AFAB over 40.
  • Is accompanied by a lump, redness or breast pain.

Nipple discharge is usually not cancer. Your healthcare provider can monitor your symptoms and discuss treatment for nipple discharge. In most people, nipple discharge goes away over time or with the right treatment.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Nipple discharge is usually not a cause for worry, but it’s a good idea to get it checked out. Symptoms like the color of the discharge, frequency of discharge and if it comes from one or both breasts can help a healthcare provider determine a cause. A healthcare provider will examine your breasts and run any imaging tests that may be necessary. It’s rarely a sign of breast cancer, but it can be a sign of an underlying medical condition. In most cases, nipple discharge in women or people AFAB happens due to hormones, a blocked milk duct or a noncancerous lump or tumor. Nipple discharge in men or people AMAB is almost always abnormal.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/20/2023.

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