Galactorrhea (Nipple Discharge)

After you read this, you will know what galactorrhea is, how it is diagnosed, and how it is treated. Galactorrhea may be a symptom of a condition that needs further medical treatment, so it is important that you come to Reddy Urgent Care to determine the cause of this problem.

What is galactorrhea?

Galactorrhea is a milklike discharge of fluid from the breast nipples. The discharge may be from one or both breasts. A discharge like this is called galactorrhea unless you are pregnant or breast-feeding, in which case it is called lactation.

How does it occur?

Galactorrhea can occur when your body produces too much prolactin. Prolactin is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland in the brain. Normally, prolactin helps a woman make milk when she is going to have a baby.

Galactorrhea may be caused by:

  • birth control pills and other medicines

  • an underactive thyroid gland

  • problems with the pituitary gland or hypothalamus in the brain

  • some brain diseases, such as meningitis

  • a cyst under the darkened area around the nipple (called a galactocele)

  • shingles caused by the chickenpox virus in the chest wall

  • surgery on the chest

  • other medical problems such as kidney failure, liver disease, sarcoidosis (a chronic lung disease), and Cushing’s disease of the adrenal gland

The cause of galactorrhea cannot be found in about half of the cases.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine your breasts. Your provider will also ask about your medical history, such as whether you have stopped having menstrual periods, are having trouble getting pregnant, or having headaches or vision problems. Your provider will also ask about what medicines you are taking. A sample of the discharge may be tested in the lab.

Reddy Urgent Care may order the following tests:

  • blood tests

  • mammogram (X-ray of the breasts)

  • ultrasound scan of your breasts

  • CT scan (computerized X-rays) of your brain to look at your pituitary gland and hypothalamus

How is it treated?

Sometimes the tests do not find a cause of the discharge and you may not need any treatment.

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

If a galactocele is causing the galactorrhea, the cyst may be removed.

If the discharge is caused by a medicine you are taking, the discharge will probably clear up when you stop taking the medicine. However, you may not have to stop the medicine; for example, you may keep taking birth control pills.

If the galactorrhea is caused by a pituitary gland or hypothalamus tumor, you may need surgery, radiation, or drug treatments. Often these tumors grow slowly. Some eventually stop growing. Some can be treated with medicines, such as bromocriptine, which stops the production of prolactin by your pituitary gland.

Your provider may prescribe bromocriptine when the cause is unknown. If you have stopped having periods, this medicine may cause the periods to start again and may increase your chances of becoming pregnant.

How long will the effects last?

Once the cause of the discharge is diagnosed and treated, the discharge may stop. However, if you have a pituitary tumor, you may need long-term treatment with bromocriptine or radiation because the tumor could come back.

How can I take care of myself?

  • Follow your Reddy Urgent Care’s recommendations for follow-up tests.

  • If you are taking bromocriptine, be sure you take it as prescribed.

  • If the galactorrhea is mild and a cause is not found, breast binders may help stop the discharge by preventing stimulation of the nipples.