Galactorrhea, in which a whitish or greenish discharge occurs from the nipples, affects nearly 24 percent of women but has no association with breast cancer, health experts said on Thursday.
Galactorrhea is a milky nipple discharge unrelated to the normal milk production for breastfeeding. It is not a disease itself but could be a sign of an underlying problem. It usually occurs in women, even those who have never had children or after menopause.
According to the doctors at Columbia Asia Hospital in Ghaziabad, pre-menopausal women who are not breastfeeding may experience a condition where they produce breast milk.
The condition may indicate high levels of the hormone prolactin in the body, caused mainly by some malfunction in the pituitary gland that produces the hormone, the experts said.
"Galactorrhea may occur when your body produces too much prolactin, (a hormone produced by the pituitary gland in the brain that stimulates the production of milk when a woman has a baby). Any woman who has had a baby, whether or not she breastfed her baby, may later have galactorrhea," said Vinita Diwakar, Obstetrics and Gynaecology department, Columbia Asia Hospital.
"Too much estrogen in the body due to birth control pills or an underactive thyroid gland can also cause the condition. Nipple stimulation due to sexual activity or sports activities such as jogging, can also increase prolactin production," Diwakar added.
According to the hospital, some of the other causes of galactorrhea may include consumption of drugs, such as oral contraceptive pills, some high blood pressure medications, sedatives, and antidepressants; disorders or non-cancerous tumors of the pituitary gland; opioid use prolactinoma other medical conditions such as kidney failure, cirrhosis of the liver, and tumors of the spinal cord.
If the breast tissue is particularly sensitive to prolactin in the blood, it may cause idiopathic galactorrhea - the reason for which remains unknown.
"In men, galactorrhea may cause testosterone deficiency or male hypogonadism and usually occurs with breast enlargement or tenderness (gynecomastia). It may also cause erectile dysfunction and a lack of sexual desire due to testosterone deficiency," Diwakar said.
If a woman experiences mild idiopathic galactorrhea, tight breast support may help stop the discharge by preventing stimulation of the nipples, the doctor said.
"In newborns, galactorrhea may be caused due to high maternal estrogen levels that cross the placenta and reaches the baby's blood. This can enlarge the baby's breast tissue, which may be associated with milky nipple discharge, though it is temporary and resolves on its own. If the discharge is persistent, consult a doctor," Diwakar stressed.
Hector O. Chapa, MD, FACOGPeer