Galactorrhea: When Breasts Secrete Milk Without Being Pregnant

    Galactorrhea: When Breasts Secrete Milk Without Being Pregnant

    Galactorrhea, which translates to “flow of milk,” is when a person has a milky nipple discharge that’s not related to breastfeeding or normal milk production. The thing is, galactorrhea syndrome can happen to anyone – even men and babies. Here’s what you need to know about it.

    1. Galactorrhea is NOT a medical condition

    You might think that galactorrhea is an illness or health condition, but it isn’t. In many cases, it is an indication of another medical problem or a result of certain medicines. However, there are also instances when galactorrhea happens for no particular reason.

    2. There are numerous possible causes to galactorrhea

    A lot of things can result in galactorrhea, like health conditions, medicine or herbal use, injury or nerve damage, and even stress. Let’s delve deeper into these potential causes:

    Health Conditions

    • Hypothyroidism, when your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormones to regulate your metabolism and other body functions
    • Tumor in the spinal cord
    • Tumor in the pituitary gland
    • Chronic kidney disease

    Medicines and Herbals

    • Some antihypertensive medicines, antipsychotic drugs, antidepressants, and sedatives are associated with galactorrhea syndrome
    • Opioid use
    • Fenugreek seed, anise, and fennel
    • Contraceptive pills

    Injury or Nerve Damage

    Injuries, nerve damage, or surgery to the chest and spinal cord are also associated with galactorrhea.

    3. Galactorrhea can also be idiopathic

    There are also instances when galactorrhea happens for no particular reason. The patient may be experiencing breast overstimulation, which can happen during sexual intercourse, friction from clothing, or a breast self-exam.

    It’s also possible that the patient’s breast tissues are highly sensitive to prolactin. That means even if they have normal blood levels of prolactin, they still produce milk.

    4. It doesn’t just happen to women

    Although galactorrhea most commonly occur in women (even those who haven’t had a baby yet or are already in menopause), men can also experience it. In men, it is often accompanied by enlarged breast and testosterone deficiency.

    On top of that, babies can also develop temporary galactorrhea. Usually, it’s due to maternal estrogen that crosses the placenta. The hormone can enlarge the baby’s chest and cause milky nipple discharge. The good news is it typically resolves without treatment.

    5. Milky nipple discharge can happen with other symptoms

    The primary sign of galactorrhea syndrome is milky discharge from the nipples. The discharge may be clear, yellowish, or white in color and can occur frequently or infrequently. Depending on the underlying cause, the patient may also experience the following:

    • Vaginal dryness
    • Headache
    • Amenorrhea
    • Low libido
    • Erectile dysfunction
    • Acne
    • New hair growing on chest or breast

    6. Treatment depends on the cause

    If your doctor suspects that you have galactorrhea syndrome, they may perform some tests to determine the cause of your condition. They will decide on your treatment based on the cause of your galactorrhea and its associated symptoms:

    • Do you have normal prolactin levels? If so, the doctor will probably reassure you and recommend that you avoid overstimulating the breast or nipples. On the other hand, they will address your high prolactin levels accordingly.
    • If you have galactorrhea due to certain medicines, your doctor will first try to change your medicine and see if this fixes the problem. If it’s herbal, then they would most likely advise you to stop taking it.
    • Of course, if the milky nipple discharge results from an underlying health condition, they will address it first.

    Key Takeaways

    Galactorrhea, which literally means “flow of milk,” happens when a person has milk nipple discharge that’s not related to normal milk production or breastfeeding. There are numerous possible causes to galactorrhea, like underlying health conditions, use of certain medicines, injury or nerve damage to the chest or spinal cord, overstimulation of the breast and nipples, high sensitivity to prolactin in the blood, or even stress. If you have galactorrhea, consult your doctor right away.

    Learn more about Breastfeeding here.

    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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    Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. Updated Oct 07
    Medically reviewed by Ruben Macapinlac, MD, DPPS