Galactorrhea is a discharge of milk-like substance from the breast that is not associated with breastfeeding. This condition mainly occurs in women. It does occur in men and may even occur in infants, but much less commonly. The milky white discharge can come from 1 or both breasts, and the breast may leak fluid with or without stimulation.
Galactorrhea has many causes, though sometimes the cause is unknown. Excess prolactin, a hormone that stimulates milk production, is often the cause of galactorrhea. Tumors of the pituitary gland, called pituitary adenomas or prolactinomas, can cause excess prolactin production. The pituitary is a small gland attached to the brain. Pituitary tumors are usually not cancerous.
In newborns, high levels of circulating maternal estrogen may result in enlarged breast tissue and secretion of milk
Galactorrhea is more common in women. Other factors that may increase your chance of galactorrhea include:
Wearing clothing that irritates the nipple
Frequent breast self-exam or frequent breast stimulation
The primary symptom is a milky discharge from the nipple that is not associated with breast-feeding. The discharge can come from 1 or both breasts. Other symptoms that can occur along with the discharge include:
Enlargement of the breast tissue
Abnormal or absent menstruation
Loss of sex drive
Impotence in men
Inability to conceive a child
Nausea or vomiting
Acne or abnormal hair growth
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Tests may include:
A sample of the breast discharge to look at under a microscope
Blood tests to check hormone levels
Imaging tests to check for a pituitary gland tumor in the brain:
If the discharge is not milky or contains blood, then this is not galactorrhea. Other tests must be done to check for
or other disorders.
Treatment depends on the cause. In some cases, no medical treatment is necessary, and the condition will go away on its own. In these cases, breast binders that prevent stimulation of the nipples may be effective. If medications are identified as the potential cause, safe alternatives should be sought.
If an underlying cause for galactorrhea, such as a pituitary tumor, is found, this condition may be treated.
To reduce your chance of galactorrhea:
Avoid wearing clothing that irritates the breast.
Avoid frequent breast self-exam; usually once a month is enough.
Avoid excessive sexual stimulation of the breasts.
Eftekhari N, Mohammaalizadeh S. Pregnancy rate following bromocriptine treatment in infertile women with galactorrhea. Gynecol Endocrinol. 2009;25(2):122-124.
Galactorrhea. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/galactorrhea.html. Updated January 2018. Accessed March 9, 2018.
Huang W, Molitch ME. Evaluation and management of galactorrhea. Am Fam Physician. 2012;85(11):1073-1080.
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