Breast discharge: what is galactorrhea?

Breast discharge: what is galactorrhea?

Galactorrhea is a medical term used for abnormal nipple discharge. It is characterized by a white color and a milky appearance. This mammary milk flow may occur spontaneously or be caused by pressure on the breasts. Galactorrhea is usually bilateral, that is, it manifests itself at the level of both breasts.

Galactorrhea in women

In women, galactorrhea more accurately refers to abnormal lactation. It corresponds to a breast flow outside pregnancy and lactation period. Indeed, during these periods, a normal breast flow can occur.

Galactorrhea in men

In rare cases, galactorrhea can be seen in men.
Milk flow through the breasts: what are the causes of galactorrhea?

Galactorrhea is a symptom whose causes are not yet all known. In 60% of cases, the origin is unknown. Galactorrhea is said to be idiopathic.



In other cases, galactorrhea is often associated with hyperprolactinemia, a hormonal imbalance characterized by excessive production of prolactin. Secreted by the pituitary gland in the brain, this hormone is responsible for the flow of milk through the breasts. This hormonal imbalance can have several explanations:

  • an attack of the pituitary gland, the best known of which is prolactinoma, sometimes called pituitary adenoma secreting prolactin, which is a tumor in the pituitary gland characterized by an excessive secretion of prolactin;
  • hypothalamic-pituitary axis involvement, particularly in cases of hypothalamic tumor, compression or traumatic section of the pituitary stem connecting the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus, or invasive disease such as sarcoidosis;
  • certain extra-brain disorders, abnormalities external to the brain such as Cushing’s syndrome, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), thoracic lesions and cirrhosis;
  • an iatrogenic origin, when hyperprolactinemia occurs when taking certain drugs, especially those containing steroids, anti-androgens, psychotropic drugs, opioids, anti-emetics, antihypertensives, diuretics, or still methadone.

Nevertheless, according to current scientific data, galactorrhea is not always associated with hyperprolactinemia. Other hormonal imbalances may explain the abnormal breast flow:

  • acromegaly, a disease characterized by excessive production of growth hormone;
  • an adrenal pathology, that is to say a disease affecting the adrenal glands located above each kidney and responsible for the secretion of several hormones;
  • Dysthyroidism, which is a dysfunction of the thyroid, an endocrine gland located in the neck.



Galactorrhea: what is the risk of complication?

The consequences and evolution of galactorrhea are variable. The flow of milk through the nipples can be a hindrance in everyday life. In some cases, galactorrhea may persist over time. Depending on its origin, white breast discharge may also be accompanied by other symptoms.

In women, galactorrhea can sometimes be accompanied by:

amenorrhea, that is to say the absence of menstruation;
oligomenorrhea, a symptom characterized by scanty rules;
spaniomenorrhea, a progressive lengthening of the interval between the menses.

In humans, other signs may appear as:

  • headache
  • visual disturbances;
  • loss of libido
  • erectile dysfunction.

Nipple discharge: what are the solutions?

Management consists of treating the origin of galactorrhea. Depending on the case, the treatment can be based on:

  • drug treatment
  • a surgery ;
  • radiotherapy.