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Nipple discharge


After childbirth, hormonal stimulation by prolactin, a hormone secreted by the pituitary gland in the brain, allows mammary glands to secrete the milk necessary for feeding a newborn. Nipple discharge, also called galactorrhea, is a flowing of milk from the nipple even when a mother is not nursing her child. This phenomenon is usually nothing to worry about and is due to an excessive amount of prolactin. The nipple discharge may also consist of something other than breast milk.


The nature and appearance of the liquid flowing from the nipple may vary:
  • If the discharge is milky and is emitted from both breasts, it is a natural galactorrhea due to childbirth or medications;
  • If the flow involves only one breast and is pus-like in nature, has an unpleasant odor and is accompanied by fever, redness and pain, it is a probable infection or mastitis;
  • If the discharge is clear or tinted with blood and affects only one breast, further investigations are needed to eliminate the possibility of a potential tumor.


In case of a flow of breast milk outside of nursing periods, laboratory tests can determine the amount of prolactin in the blood and thus point out any hyperprolactinemia. If the latter is confirmed, an MRI study of the glands behind the regulation of this hormone is needed. For other types of discharge, other complementary examinations are performed, particularly a blood test looking for an infection, a mammogram, and sometimes more MRIs or ultrasounds to detect possible benign or malignant cysts.


Treatment depends on the cause of the nipple discharge. Medication is prescribed to regulate hormonal disorders or to treat the infection. One can resort to surgery if there are cysts and abscesses or to treat the tumor responsible for nipple discharge.