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Am Fam Physician. 2001;():online-only-

What is galactorrhea?

Sometimes a woman's breast makes milk even though she is not breast-feeding a baby. This is called galactorrhea (say: gal-act-tor-ee-ah). The milk may come from one or both breasts. It may leak with no stimulation or it may leak only when the breasts are touched.

Men can have galactorrhea, too, but it is less common.

What causes galactorrhea?

Galactorrhea has many causes. Here are some of them:

  • Medicines, like hormones, antidepressants and blood pressure medicines

  • Herbs, such as nettle, fennel, blessed thistle, anise and fenugreek seed

  • Street drugs, like marijuana and opiates

  • Hormone imbalance

  • Tumors (usually benign), especially tumors of the pituitary gland (say: pit-too-it-tarry), which is in the brain

  • Pregnancy

  • Clothing that irritates the breasts (like scratchy wool shirts or bras that don't fit well)

  • Doing very frequent breast self-exams (daily exams)

  • Stimulation of the breast during sexual activity

Sometimes the cause can't be found.

Galactorrhea is a white fluid. If the fluid coming from your breast is reddish, your doctor will check you for cancer.

What other signs should I tell my doctor about?

Tell your doctor if you have any of these signs:

  • No menstrual periods or periods that are not regular

  • Headaches or trouble seeing

  • Less interest in having sex

  • Increase in hair growth on your chin or chest

  • Acne

What tests might my doctor order?

Your doctor might order blood tests to find out your hormone levels and to see if you are pregnant. Or, your doctor might want you to have an MRI scan of your head to see if you have a tumor.

Tests are not always needed if you and your doctor can figure out what caused your galactorrhea.

How is galactorrhea treated?

Most tumors that cause galactorrhea are not cancer. They can be treated with medicine or surgery.

In many cases, there is no treatment, and the breast milk goes away with time. Until it goes away, here are some things you can do to help:

  • Avoid stimulating your breasts.

  • Avoid touching your nipples during sexual activity.

  • Don't do breast self-exams more than one time a month.

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