Galactorrhea is a discharge of milk-like substance from the breast that is not associated with breastfeeding after pregnancy. This condition mainly occurs in women. It does occur in men, but much less commonly. The milky white discharge can come from one or both breasts, and the breast may leak fluid with or without stimulation.
Galactorrhea has many causes, though sometimes the cause is unknown. Tumors of the pituitary gland, called pituitary adenomas or prolactinomas, can cause galactorrhea. The pituitary is a small gland attached to the brain. Pituitary tumors are usually not cancerous. They can cause galactorrhea when they produce excess prolactin, a hormone that stimulates milk production.
Other causes of galactorrhea include:
Galactorrhea is more common in women. Other factors that may increase your chance of galactorrhea include:
The primary symptom is a milky discharge from the nipple that is not associated with breast-feeding. The discharge can come from one or both breasts. Other symptoms that can occur along with the discharge include:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Tests may include:
If the discharge is not milky or contains blood, then this is not galactorrhea. Other tests must be done to check for breast cancer or other disorders.
Treatment depends on the cause. In some mild 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.
Tumors of the pituitary gland that cause galactorrhea are usually benign. Small tumors may be treated with a medication, such as a dopamine agonist. Larger tumors that do not respond to medication may be treated with the following:
Despite treatment, pituitary gland tumors often recur.
American Academy of Family Physicians
National Library of Medicine
Canadian Family Physician
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Hyperprolactinemia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what. Updated March 5, 2012. Accessed June 11, 2013.
Leung AKC, Pacaud D. Diagnosis and management of galactorrhea. Am Fam Physician. 2004; 70:543-550,553-554.
Rodden A. Common breast concerns. Primary Care. 2009;36(1):103-113.
Last reviewed June 2013 by Andrea Chisholm; Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.