Some ladies, and very few men have this condition where they notice milky nipple discharge coming out of their Nipple. This is known as Galactorrhea. It happens in the absence of pregnancy. It can cause absence of menstrual period and can also lead to infertility.
It happens to a good number of sexually active ladies, and it can be a major cause of worry. In this write up, we’d try to explain what this is and what causes it, as well as advise you on what you can do about it.
Table of Content
- What is Galactorrhea
- Causes of Nipple Discharge
- Symptoms of Nipple Discharge
- Treatment of Nipple Discharge
- Is the Discharge Safe?
What is Galactorrhea
Galactorrhea is a medical condition that is characterized by expression of milk from the breasts. It can occur in either one or both breasts, and it can happen in both females and males alike.
This discharge is different from the regular milk secretion that occurs during pregnancy.
Discharge may occur from the nipples of newborn babies (either male or female). This is commonly called witch’s milk. It is caused by the passage of mother’s hormones across the placenta. Discharge, may also occur at puberty due to the hormonal changes that occurs around this time.
Causes of Galactorrhea
This can be caused by a number of things such as;
- Thyroid Dysfunction
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
This is the commonest cause of galactorrhea. A Prolactinoma is simply a tumor or growth that occurs in a part in the brain known as the pituitary gland.
What is the Pituitary Gland?
The pituitary gland is the master gland of the body. It produces hormones that controls other glands as well as activities in the body. Of there is a problem with the pituitary gland, you would have problems with growth, activities (metabolism), fertility, excretion, menstrual cycle, in fact, virtually everything that is controlled by hormones.
Where is the pituitary gland?
The gland is located in the space between the two eyes, inside the head. Medically, it sits in a place called the Sella Turcica.
Prolactinomas are mostly benign growths, so you do not have to be scared thinking you may have brain cancer. It is only on rare occasions that there might be malignant changes, hence, the need to see a doctor as soon as you can to make sure you have the benign type.
Prolactinomas causes an increase in the production of prolactin, a hormone that controls breast milk production during pregnancy. When the levels of this hormone is increased in non pregnant women, it may cause this breast discharge. It stimulates the breasts to begin milk production.
Other tumors close to this pituitary gland may also trigger the production of prolactin.
So what are the other causes?
Other possible causes of galactorrhea includes;
- Problems with the thyroid gland: When your thyroid gland is not working properly. The thyroid gland is a gland that affects our metabolism (the rate at which we work, sweat, etc). It also affects the functions of other glands.
- Medications: Some drugs like opioids, high blood pressure medications, antidepressants can lead to galactorrhea as a side effect.
- PCOS: known as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.
- Some kidney conditions
- Using marijuana (Igbo, weed)
- Some herbal supplements
- Liver problems
- Some contraceptives
Symptoms of Galactorrhea
- Discharge from the nipples: milk-like discharge from the nipples.
- Amenorrhea: women who experience this may also have absent periods or they may not see their periods every month just like what happens in breastfeeding mothers. This is because there would be no ovulation.
- Problems with fertility: Some may have issues bearing children. This is because, you cannot get pregnant, when you are breastfeeding. The increase in this hormone causes your body to believe that you are breast feeding. Hence, it suppresses the hormones responsible for ovulation. Without ovulation, there cannot be fertilization, hence, no pregnancy.
- Visual disturbances: If the tumor grows large enough, it may cause problems with your vision.
- Frequent headaches: this is usually due to the growth of the prolactinoma. You should see a doctor if you have frequent headaches.
Treatment of Galactorrhea (What do you do if you have this)?
You need to see a doctor, preferably a gynecologist. He or she will ask some questions and examine you to be sure that there are no lumps in your breasts. Breasts lumps can be a sign of breast cancer, and would need to be evaluated further.
You will be required to run some tests to check the level of your hormones. He or she may ask for an MRI or a CT scan to look into your brain. All these would help to identify the particular cause of the galactorrhea.
Can it be treated?
Yes! The treatment depends on the cause.
In cases of prolactinoma, drugs (e.g: bromocriptine) will be given to you to reduce the level of this prolactin hormone. This would stop the discharge, and would also help with the amenorrhea & problems with fertility.
In cases of medication induced galactorrhea: you would need to stop using the drugs causing the problem, such as the antidepressants, contraceptive pill, etc.
Would surgery be needed?
Surgery may not be needed. Some drugs are available that has the ability to shrink the size of the tumor. Your doctor would tell you more about your treatment options.
Is the discharge from Galactorrhea safe?
Yes it is safe. It has not been known to cause any harm.
Feel free to ask any questions you may have below.