Galactorrhea (Nipple Discharge)

What is galactorrhea?

Galactorrhea means that you have a milky discharge of fluid from your nipples and you are not breast-feeding or pregnant. The discharge may be from one or both breasts. Men as well as women can have nipple discharge.

Any discharge should be checked by your healthcare provider.

What is the cause?

Possible causes include:

  • Birth control pills and other medicines
  • An underactive thyroid gland
  • Problems in the parts of the brain that control hormones (the pituitary gland and hypothalamus)
  • Some brain diseases, such as meningitis
  • A pocket of fluid (cyst) under the darkened area around the nipple
  • Shingles (caused by the chickenpox virus) on the chest
  • Surgery on the chest
  • Other medical problems such as kidney failure, liver disease, lung disease, and Cushing’s disease of the adrenal glands (which make several hormones)

Often the cause of galactorrhea cannot be found.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine your breasts.

The color and consistency of the discharge, as well as whether it comes from 1 or both nipples, help your healthcare provider know what is causing it.

Tests may include:

  • Tests of the discharge
  • Blood tests
  • A mammogram, which is an X-ray of the breast
  • Ultrasound, which uses sound waves to show pictures of the breast
  • CT scan, which uses X-rays and a computer to show detailed pictures of your brain to look at your pituitary gland and hypothalamus
  • MRI, which uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to show detailed pictures of the breasts
  • A biopsy, which is removal of a small sample of tissue for testing

How is it treated?

The treatment depends on the cause. Sometimes no treatment may be needed.

If the galactorrhea is mild and a cause is not found, a tight fitting bra or a wide band wrapped tightly around the chest over the breasts may help stop the discharge.

If you have galactorrhea because you have a disorder such as thyroid problems or meningitis, your healthcare provider will treat the disorder.

Your healthcare provider may prescribe medicine to keep your body from making a hormone that causes a milky discharge.

If a cyst is causing the nipple discharge, you may have surgery to remove the cyst.

If the discharge is caused by a medicine you are taking, the discharge will probably stop when you stop taking the medicine.

If the discharge is caused by a pituitary gland or hypothalamus tumor, you may need surgery, radiation, or drug treatment.

How can I take care of myself?

Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. Ask your provider:

  • How and when you will hear your test results
  • How long it will take to recover
  • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-12-11
Last reviewed: 2014-12-11
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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