Nipple Discharge

Overview

What is nipple discharge?

Nipple discharge refers to fluid leaking from the nipple area of one or both breasts. It can happen in women who produce breast milk near the end of pregnancy and after giving birth. It can also occur normally in women who do not become pregnant or breastfeed.

In some cases, nipple discharge in women can be a symptom of an underlying medical condition. Nipple discharge is always abnormal in men. It is important to have a doctor determine the cause of any abnormal nipple discharge.

Possible Causes

What are the possible causes of nipple discharge?

Several conditions can cause a leaking breast. Causes of harmless discharge include:

  • Hormone imbalances
  • Medications, including birth control pills and some antidepressants
  • Nipple stimulation or friction from clothing
  • Pregnancy or breastfeeding
  • Sexual arousal
  • Stress

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

Care and Treatment

How is nipple discharge diagnosed?

Doctors diagnose nipple discharge with a medical history and physical exam. Tests doctors use to identify the cause of the discharge include:

  • Imaging: Tests including mammography (breast X-ray) , ultrasound and MRI and can help reveal a cause
  • Biopsy: If the physical exam or imaging tests show an abnormality, a doctor takes a sample of breast tissue
  • Blood tests: A doctor takes a blood sample to measure hormone levels

How is nipple discharge managed or 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
  • Treating another underlying disorder

When to Call the Doctor

When should I call the doctor about nipple discharge?

Contact your doctor about any nipple discharge that is new, nipple discharge that lasts longer than a single menstrual cycle or:

  • Accompanies a lump
  • Comes from one breast only
  • Develops in a man or boy
  • Happens without breast stimulation
  • Is pink or bloody
  • Occurs in women over age 40

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/20/2019.

References

  • The American Society of Breast Surgeons Foundation. Accessed 4/22/2019.Nipple Discharge. (https://breast360.org/topics/2017/01/01/nipple-discharge/)
  • Merck Manual. Accessed 4/22/2019.Nipple Discharge. (https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/women-s-health-issues/breast-disorders/nipple-discharge)
  • Parthasarathy V, Rathnam U. Int J Prev Med. 2012 Nov;3(11):810-4. Accessed 4/22/2019.Nipple Discharge: An Early Warning Sign of Breast Cancer. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3506094/)

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