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Am Fam Physician. 2004;70(3):553-554

What is galactorrhea?

Sometimes a woman's breasts make milk even though she is not pregnant or breastfeeding. This condition is called galactorrhea (say: guh-lack-tuh-ree-ah). The milk may come from one or both breasts. It may leak on its own or only when the breasts are touched. Men can have galactorrhea, too, but it is more common in women.

What causes galactorrhea?

Galactorrhea has many causes, although sometimes a cause cannot be found. Here are some possible causes:

  • Some medicines, like hormones, birth control pills, antidepressants, and blood pressure medicine

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

  • Street drugs, like marijuana and opiates

  • Hormone imbalances

  • Clothes that irritate the breasts, like scratchy shirts or bras that don't fit well

  • Too frequent breast self-exams (daily exams)

  • Stimulating the breasts during sex

  • Tumors of the pituitary (say: pih-too-ih-terry) gland in the brain. These tumors are rare. They usually are not serious.

  • In newborn babies, hormones from the mother are passed on to the baby during birth.

  • Thyroid disease

  • Kidney failure

What signs should I tell my doctor about?

Tell your doctor if you have any of these signs with your galactorrhea:

  • Irregular menstrual periods

  • Red (bloody) fluid leaking from your breasts

  • Headaches

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Less interest in sex or trouble having sex

  • Problems with your eyesight

  • Increase in hair growth on your chin or chest

  • Acne

  • Increased thirst or urination

Which tests might my doctor want?

Tests are not always needed to find out what is causing your galactorrhea. But your doctor might want to take a blood sample to find out your hormone levels and to see if you are pregnant. Your doctor also might want you to have an MRI scan of your head to see if you have a tumor.

How is galactorrhea treated?

Sometimes galactorrhea will go away by itself. If you have galactorrhea and no other problems, you may not have to be treated. If galactorrhea is a side effect of a medicine you are taking, your doctor might change medicines or give you a different dosage.

Most tumors that cause galactorrhea are not cancer. They usually can be treated with medicine. Most people do not need to have surgery for a tumor.

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