Galactorrhea is a discharge of milk-like substance from the breast that is not associated with breastfeeding. This condition mainly occurs in women. It does occur in men and may even occur in infants, but much less commonly. The milky white discharge can come from 1 or both breasts, and the breast may leak fluid with or without stimulation.
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Galactorrhea has many causes, though sometimes the cause is unknown. Excess prolactin, a hormone that stimulates milk production, is often the cause of galactorrhea. Tumors of the pituitary gland, called pituitary adenomas or prolactinomas, can cause excess prolactin production. 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:
Some medications, such as:
Birth control pills or other hormonesCertain blood pressure drugsCertain psychiatric medicationsAnti-nausea drugsSome antigastroesophageal reflux medicationsSome pain killers
Certain herbs, such as :
NettleFennelBlessed thistleAniseFenugreek seedIllicit drugs, such as marijuana and opioidsSexual stimulation of the breastCertain diseases, such as
underactive or overactive thyroid, and chronic kidney failure, or liver diseaseChronic emotional stressHypothalamic tumors or disease
Chest wall conditions, such as:
ShinglesTraumaBurnsSurgical scarsTumors of chest wallIn newborns, high levels of circulating maternal estrogen may result in enlarged breast tissue and secretion of milk
Galactorrhea is more common in women. Other factors that may increase your chance of galactorrhea include: StressWearing clothing that irritates the nippleFrequent breast self-exam or frequent breast stimulation
The primary symptom is a milky discharge from the nipple that is not associated with breast-feeding. The discharge can come from 1 or both breasts. Other symptoms that can occur along with the discharge include: Enlargement of the breast tissueAbnormal or absent menstruationDelayed pubertyLoss of sex driveImpotence in menInability to conceive a childNausea or vomitingHeadachesAcne or abnormal hair growthVisual difficulties
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Tests may include: A sample of the breast discharge to look at under a microscopeBlood tests to check hormone levelsPregnancy test
Imaging tests to check for a pituitary gland tumor in the brain:
MRI scanCT scan
If the discharge is not milky or contains blood, then this is not galactorrhea. Other tests must be done to check for
or other disorders.
Treatment depends on the cause. In some 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.
To reduce your chance of galactorrhea: Avoid wearing clothing that irritates the breast.Avoid frequent breast self-exam; usually once a month is enough.Avoid excessive sexual stimulation of the breasts.Do not use illicit drugs.
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Galactorrhea. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at:
Updated March 2014. Accessed March 14, 2016.
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Salzman B, Fleegle S, Tully A. Common breast problems. Am Fam Physician.2010 Aug15; 86 (4):343-349
Last reviewed March 2016 by Marcie L. Sidman, 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.
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