Here's Why You Are Experiencing Nipple Discharge: Galactorrhea
Have you been experiencing nipple discharge and you are not pregnant or breastfeeding? Read this article to learn more about the condition called Galactorrhea which also affects men and children.
Galactorrhea is not in itself a disease but a symptom. It occurs mostly in women who have been pregnant before between the ages of 20-35, but it can also occur in women of all ages, infants and men. Sometimes, the cause of galactorrhea can't be determined and has to be left to resolve on its own.
So what is galactorrhea and how does it manifest? Find out everything you need to know about the symptoms, causes and treatment in this article.
What is galactorrhea?
Galactorrhea, pronounced guh-lack-toe-REE-uh, is a milky discharge from the nipples that has absolutely nothing to do with breastfeeding. To put it simply, if you're constantly lactating when you're not pregnant then you have this condition, also known as witch's milk. Though it is less a disease than a symptom that sometimes points to an underlying condition in patients.
As a factor, prolactin is the hormone responsible for breastfeeding during pregnancy, which suggests excessive production of prolactin in people who lactate without being pregnant. Excessive touching of the breasts, side effects from medications or disorders of the pituitary gland may contribute to galactorrhea. See your doctor immediately if you notice your nipple discharging a milk-like liquid, but please don't worry yourself sick because it isn't related to cancer.
Causes of galactorrhea
Though very rare, some people can actually start to discharge breast milk due to an emotional response to a baby that's not related to them. One study found a woman with diabetes producing breast milk under mild touch as a result of being near an infant that isn't related to her. When she distanced herself from the baby, her symptoms disappeared. Doctors checked for biological reasons, and when they found nothing, they concluded that her lactation was because of an emotional response to the baby. Below are other causes of galactorrhea:
- Too much of breast and nipple stimulation
- Kidney disease
- Some types of hormonal birth control
- Spinal cord surgery or injury
- Medications, including drugs for high blood pressure
- Nerve damage to the chest from an injury or surgery
- Use of marijuana, opioids, or cocaine
- Some herbal supplements
- Testosterone deficiency in men
- High levels of estrogen in newborns
Unfortunately, doctors aren't always able to find the cause of galactorrhea, in which case the condition is called idiopathic galactorrhea. This simply means your breasts are over-sensitive to the hormone responsible for breast milk production.
What are the symptoms of galactorrhea?
The symptoms of galactorrhea depend on the underlying cause, but the general symptoms include:
- Milky discharge from the nipple on one or both breasts
- Leaking from the nipples due to touching
- Irregular periods
- Headaches or visual disturbances
The following symptoms occur in men with galactorrhea:
- Loss of sexual desire
- Enlarged breast area around the nipples
- Tenderness in the breast area
- Erectile dysfunction
How is galactorrhea diagnosed?
Galactorrhea usually comes with an underlying cause, which is why you should see a doctor. Below are ways to diagnose galactorrhea:
- A physical: Sometimes leaking starts when your nipples get stimulated, so the doctor will squeeze your nipples to see if they discharge. Your breasts may also be examined for any signs of a tumour.
- Blood tests: Prolactin is the hormone responsible for breast milk, so the doctor will run a blood test to check the levels of this hormone. This will narrow the underlying cause of galactorrhea.
- Testing of the nipple discharge: The doctor will take a sample of your nipple discharge to check for bits of fat if you've been pregnant before. Having bits of fat in your discharge is a sign of galactorrhea.
- Imaging tests: A scan can help check your breast tissue or your pituitary gland for any tumours, which is one of the main causes of galactorrhea.
- Pregnancy test: Your doctor will run a pregnancy test to see if it's the cause of your lactation.
How do we treat galactorrhea?
The treatment of galactorrhea also depends on the underlying cause, so it is important to identify what is causing it. Here are a few ways to treat this condition:
- Avoiding medication that causes discharge: Talk to your doctor for a change of drug if you think the one prescribed can cause galactorrhea. Make sure you talk to your doctor before stopping any medication as this may have unexpected effects.
- Regulating your hormone level: Regulating your prolactin level is one of the sure ways for treatment. The doctor will prescribe drugs that can help shrink tumours and regulate hormone levels.
- Surgery: The doctor may recommend surgery if the tumour is large and medication isn't really shrinking it.
You'll never know on your own whether the galactorrhea is the kind that resolves itself, which is why you need to see a doctor immediately. Also, if you experience constant discharge from one or both of your nipples, see your doctor for a diagnosis.