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Nipple Discharge - Everything You Should Know!

Reviewed by
Dr. Reshma Waghmare 89% (41 ratings)
MS - Obstetrics and Gynaecology, MBBS
Gynaecologist, Navi Mumbai  •  8 years experience
Nipple Discharge - Everything You Should Know!

Nipple discharge is a common part of breast functioning, which normally occurs during breast-feeding or pregnancy. It is often associated with the changes of menstrual hormone. The milky discharge post breast-feeding usually continues for up to two years after stopping nursing. The condition normally gets resolved on its own but if the situation persists for a long time resort to medical assistance.

The following are some of the causes of normal nipple discharge:

  • Stimulation: Normal nipple discharge can arise due to stimulation; chafing of your breast skin due to tight bras or vigorous exercises.
  • Pregnancy: Most women tend to witness clear nipple discharge in the early stages of their pregnancy. Towards the later stages, this discharge usually turns watery and becomes milky in color
  • Stopped Breast-feeding: In some cases, nipple discharge continues for some time after the mother has stopped breast-feeding her newborn
  • Hormonal Imbalance: Some women notice tenderness in breasts and nipple discharge during their menstrual cycle

What is an abnormal nipple discharge: An abnormal nipple discharge is usually bloody in color and is accompanied with tenderness of the breast. Papilloma is a non-cancerous tumor that is often responsible for bloody nipple discharge. Continuous nipple discharge from one of the breasts or nipple discharge that arises without any stimulation or external irritation is abnormal in nature.

The possible causes of abnormal nipple discharge include:

  1. Abscess: It is an assortment of pus that get accumulated within the tissues of your body. It is usually accompanied by redness, pain and swelling. Boils and carbuncles are types of abscess. Formation of abscess in breasts may result in nipple discharge.
  2. Breast cancer: Breast cancer often results in bloody nipple discharge and is often found with a presence of lump in one of the breasts.
  3. Mastitis: It is a breast infection that affects the tissues of the breast and is usually prominent during breastfeeding. Fatigue, fever and body aches are common in this situation.
  4. Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS): Normally characterized by the growth of cancerous cells in the milk ducts of your breasts, it is generally identified through mammography screening.
  5. Fibroadenoma: In this situation most young women witness an appearance of solid, tumor like structure
  6. Galactorrhea: Galactorrhea is nipple discharge of milk when not pregnant or breastfeeding. The discharge can vary in color and can be expressed from either or both breasts.

What Causes Galactorrhea: Galactorrhea is commonly caused by hyperprolactinemia, especially when it is associated with amenorrhea. Hyperprolactinemia is most often induced by medication or associated with pituitary adenomas or other sellar or suprasellar lesions.

The release of prolactin from the pituitary is held in check by dopamine from the hypothalamus. Prolactin release is encouraged by serotonin and thyrotropin-releasing hormone. This balance can be disrupted by medication (ie. antipsychotics), underactive thyroid function, pituitary tumors, hypothalamic tumors, damage to the pituitary stalk, nipple stimulation, chest trauma, herpes zoster, and emotional stress as well as a variety of other factors.

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