Galactorrhea is a type of health condition which chiefly involves the discharge of a milky secretion from the nipples unrelated to the usual milk production during breast-feeding. Although this condition is mostly common in women between the ages of 20 and 35, yet it can happen in men and children as well. Additionally, in case of women, it can even be diagnosed in those who never had children or have passed the menopause phase in their lives. The milky white discharge from the nipples can often happen on its own or when the nipples are touched or stimulated.
Sometimes, the doctor cannot find any exact cause of this condition, and in that case, it is termed as idiopathic galactorrhea. And it means, that the breast tissue is highly sensitive to the milk-producing hormone prolactin in your blood which may even cause galactorrhea if present in normal levels within the body.
Prolactinoma: The most primary cause of galactorrhea is a condition that is characterized by the formation of a tumour in the pituitary gland, a small bean-shaped gland at the base of the brain which in turn helps in secreting and regulating several other hormones. When the tumour becomes large and presses the pituitary gland, it is triggered to produce excessive prolactin, a hormone that is chiefly responsible for the secretion of milk for the baby during lactation.
While in the case of the female populace, along with galactorrhea, prolactinoma can also cause fertility problems, low libido, infrequent or total absence of periods, or excessive hair growth, men have often noticed low libido and erectile dysfunction due to galactorrhea.
Other causes of Galactorrhea include:
- Medications, such as certain sedatives, antipsychotics, antidepressants, and high blood pressure drugs
- Herbal supplements, such as fennel, anise or fenugreek seed
- Underactive thyroid gland (i.e., hypothyroidism)
- Chronic kidney disease for long-term
- Excessive breast stimulation, which may be associated with sexual activity, frequent breast self-exams with nipple manipulation or prolonged clothing friction
- Nerve damage to the chest wall from chest surgery, burns or other chest injuries
- Surgical procedure of the spinal cord, any injury or tumors
- Excessive stress
- Liver disorders like cirrhosis
- Using opioids, cocaine or marijuana
- Taking certain prokinetics for gastrointestinal conditions
- Using phenothiazines to get rid of parasites
- Certain types of lung cancer
- Birth control pills in case of females
- Low testosterone due to hypogonadism in case of males
Apart from males and females, children can also be diagnosed with galactorrhea due to excessive levels of the hormone progesterone in the mother during pregnancy that can enter the placenta and get inside baby’s blood even before birth. This factor can cause breast enlargement and nipple discharge in children after birth.
The preliminary symptom of galactorrhea is milky-white discharge from the nipples which can be spontaneous or manually expressed even when a person is not breast feeding. Other common signs and symptoms include:
- Nipple discharge involving multiple milk ducts
- Amenorrhea (infrequent or absence of menstrual periods)
- Vaginal dryness
- New hair growing on the chest or chin
- Vision problems
- Reduced sex drive
- Erectile dysfunction in men
Diagnosis And Treatment
If you notice any of the above-mentioned signs and symptoms, do consult a doctor right away to get checked and treated at the earliest. The doctor usually acknowledges the patient’s past medical history and conducts a few diagnostics including:
- A complete physical check-up to examine the breast and nipple area, look for lumps and also tries to express some fluid from the nipples
- Blood test to check the levels of prolactin in the body
- Examination of the fluid discharge from the nipple
- Hcg test to rule out if milk discharge is due to pregnancy
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain, to check for a tumor or other abnormality of the pituitary gland
- Mammography or ultrasound or sometimes even both to look for lumps or suspicious tissue in the breasts
While in some people, it goes away on its own others require timely medical intervention for management. The treatment options for galactorrhea usually focus on managing the underlying symptoms that cause the condition.
- Stop taking the medications that may cause galactorrhea
- Take medicines to counter insufficient hormone production by the thyroid gland
- Use medications to shrink the tumor or have surgery to remove it
- Take medication to decrease or stop prolactin by increasing your dopamine levels