What is Galactorrhea?

Galactorrhea is the production of breast milk in women who aren’t nursing or pregnant and sometimes in men and infants. It’s rarely a stand-alone condition, but rather a symptom of an underlying or unrelated issue. It’s often caused by a gland problem or over-production of the hormone (prolactin) that plays a role in stimulating milk production following child birth.

Contributing Factors

Antidepressants, high blood pressure drugs, herbal supplements, sedatives, birth control pills, and use of certain street drugs may also result in spontaneous milk secretion. Pituitary gland issues, chronic kidney disease, and nerve damage within the chest area may also contribute to galactorrhea.

What are the Symptoms of Galactorrhea?

Milky discharge from nipples can happen occasionally with no regularity or occur with degree of consistency. Women with the condition may experience missed or irregular menstrual cycles. Production of milk may be spontaneous or it may be expressed.

Symptoms include

  • Headaches
  • Vision issues
  • Milky discharge from nipples
  • Expression during nipple stimulation
  • Irregular menstrual cycles
  • Missed menstrual cycles

Galactorrhea Causes

Galactorrhea is unrelated to regular milk production that is associated with breastfeeding and childbirth.

However, there are many causes of galactorrhea, including:

  • Tumors (usually non-cancerous or benign), especially pituitary gland tumors in the brain
  • Pregnancy
  • Herbal supplements like fennel, nettle, anise, fenugreek seed, and blessed thistle
  • Drugs like opiates and marijuana
  • Medicines like hormones, blood pressure medicines, antidepressants and some tranquilizers
  • Excess stimulation of breasts during sexual intercourse
  • Oral contraceptives
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Clothes that irritate the breasts, like poorly fitting bras, or scratchy wool shirts
  • An under-active thyroid (hypothyroidism)
  • Spinal cord surgery, tumor, or injury
  • Certain brain diseases like meningitis
  • Too much estrogen in the body due to taking excess birth control pills
  • Excess production of prolactin by the body

Even after thorough testing, there is no specific cause of galactorrhea in some patients. It generally develops in women, including menopausal women and those who have never had children. It can also occur in men as well as infants and teenagers of both genders. The milky white substance may be released from both or either breasts with or without stimulation.

How is Galactorrhea Treated?

A blood test is usually performed to check prolactin levels and rule out any other potential causes of abnormal lactation. A mammogram allows for better examination of breast tissue, although an MRI scan may also be performed to look for the presence of a tumor. For premenopausal women, a pregnancy test may be done to rule out pregnancy as a cause.

Treatment includes

  • Medication to reduce prolactin production
  • Management of underlying conditions or contributing factors
  • Medication to shrink a pituitary tumor or surgery to remove it
  • Changes to existing medications that may be triggering lactation

Possibly affecting one or both breasts, galactorrhea is an often treatable condition that responds well to medications prescribed to re-balance hormone levels. More common in women, it is also prevalent in women with hyperprolactinemia, a condition resulting in over-production of a protein associated with lactation.

Galactorrhea Prevention

Galactorrhea cannot be prevented. If the intake of a certain medicine causes this condition, a patient should switch to another drug that does not cause galactorrhea as a side-effect.

However, there are a number of things you can do to reduce your risk of developing galactorrhea:

  • Avoid using banned or illicit drugs
  • Do regular breast self examinations once a month, which should be enough.
  • Do not stimulate your breasts too much during sexual intercourse.
  • Do not wear clothes that irritate your breasts, like scratchy wool shirts or poorly fitting bras – this will help to prevent galactorrhea.
Last Reviewed:
September 21, 2016
Last Updated:
December 22, 2017