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Disease: Galactorrhea Galactorrhea
Category: Endocrine and metabolic diseases

Disease Definition:

Galactorrhea is a condition in which the nipple discharges milk that is not related to the normal milk production of breast-feeding. Galactorrhea is a sign of an underlying problem; however, it's not a disease itself. Usually, this condition occurs in women, but it could also occur in infants and men.


Some of the contributing causes of galactorrhea include medication side effects, excessive breast stimulation or disorders of the hypothalamus or pituitary glands. Usually, increased levels of prolactin, which is the hormone that stimulates milk production, is the cause of galactorrhea.


This condition usually goes away on its own, and sometimes without even determining its cause.

Work Group:

Symptoms, Causes


Some of the signs and symptoms of this condition may include:


  • White, yellow or green nipple discharge without any trace of blood
  • Vision problems or headaches
  • Persistent or intermittent nipple discharge
  • Absent or irregular menstrual periods
  • One or both breasts affected
  • Spontaneously leaked or manually expressed nipple discharge


A person should see a doctor in case they have persistent nipple discharge from one or both of the breasts and they're not breast-feeding or pregnant. However, there's little cause to worry in case nipple discharge from multiple ducts is triggered by breast stimulation. Although this discharge isn't a sign of breast cancer, but the doctor should be visited for an evaluation. Clear or bloody, spontaneous and persistent nipple discharge from one duct could be a sign of an underlying breast cancer and thus, requires urgent medical evaluation.


Usually, too much prolactin, the hormone that is responsible for milk production (lactation) when a woman has a baby, is the cause of galactorrhea. The pituitary gland is a marble-sized gland at the base of the brain that secretes and regulates several hormones; it also produces prolactin.


Some of the possible causes of this condition are:


  • Birth control pills
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Nerve damage to the chest wall from chest surgery, burns or other chest injuries.
  • Herbal supplements, including fenugreek seed, anise or fennel
  • Excessive breast stimulation, which could be associated with sexual activity, prolonged clothing friction or frequent breast self-exams
  • Medications, such as certain tranquilizers, high blood pressure medications or antidepressants
  • A noncancerous pituitary tumor (prolactinoma) or other pituitary gland disorders.
  • Hypothyroidism



Idiopathic galactorrhea is when this condition's cause is not found. This could just mean that the breast tissue is particularly sensitive to the milk-producing hormone prolactin in the blood. Even normal prolactin levels could lead to galactorrhea in case someone has increased sensitivity to prolactin.



In some cases, this condition could occur in newborns because high maternal estrogen levels cross the placenta into the baby's blood, which could cause enlargement of the baby's breast tissue, and result in a milky nipple discharge.



In males, galactorrhea along with erectile dysfunction and a lack of sexual desire could be associated with testosterone deficiency, a condition called male hypogonadism.





Treatment will aim at resolving the underlying cause of galactorrhea, if it's needed at all.


In some cases, the exact cause of galactorrhea cannot be determined but it needs to be treated anyway, such as when someone experiences bothersome or embarrassing nipple discharge. In these cases, patients will be given a medication in order to lower the amount of prolactin in their body or to block its effects. Galactorrhea could be eliminated by reducing the levels of prolactin.


In case someone's galactorrhea is due to medication use, then they should either stop taking the medication, change the dosage or switch to another medication. However, they should make these changes only after the doctor has agreed to them.


In case someone's galactorrhea is due to hypothyroidism, then they should take medications in order to counter insufficient hormone production by their thyroid gland. This is called thyroid replacement therapy. These medications include levothyroxine.


In case someone's galactorrhea is due to a pituitary tumor (prolactinoma), then they should use a medication in order to shrink the tumor or have surgery to remove it.


If the cause of galactorrhea is not known, then the person should try taking medications that lower their prolactin levels and minimize or eliminate nipple discharge. These medications include cabergoline or bromocriptine.



Surgery could be an available option in case galactorrhea persists and the person can't take any of the medications that could relieve his/her symptoms, in which case they will be referred to a surgeon in order to discuss the possibility of surgically removing the milk ducts from both of the breasts, a procedure called bilateral total duct excision.


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