Galactorrhea (guh-lack-toe-REE-uh) is a milky nipple discharge unrelated to the normal milk production of breast-feeding. Galactorrhea itself isn't a disease, but it could be a sign of an underlying problem. It usually occurs in women, even those who have never had children or after menopause. But galactorrhea can happen in men and even in infants.

Excessive breast stimulation, medication side effects or disorders of the pituitary gland all may contribute to galactorrhea. Often, galactorrhea results from increased levels of prolactin, the hormone that stimulates milk production.

Sometimes, the cause of galactorrhea can't be determined. The condition may resolve on its own.

Symptoms Causes

Signs and symptoms associated with galactorrhea include:

  • Persistent or intermittent milky nipple discharge that has no trace of blood
  • Nipple discharge involving multiple milk ducts
  • Spontaneously leaked or manually expressed nipple discharge
  • One or both breasts affected
  • Absent or irregular menstrual periods
  • Headaches or vision problems

When to see a doctor

If you have a persistent milky nipple discharge from one or both of your breasts and you're not pregnant or breast-feeding, make an appointment to see your doctor.

If breast stimulation — such as excessive nipple manipulation during sexual activity — triggers nipple discharge from multiple ducts, there is little cause for worry. The discharge probably doesn't signal breast cancer, but you should still see a doctor for evaluation.

Nonmilky nipple discharge — particularly bloody, yellow or clear spontaneous discharge that comes from one duct or is associated with a lump you can feel — requires prompt medical attention, as it may be a sign of an underlying breast cancer.

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