Galactorrhea Symptoms and Causes of Galactorrhea

Published: 28th April 2008
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Galactorrhea (say: "gal-act-tor-ee-ah") is a condition that occurs when a woman's breast makes milk (or a milky discharge) even though she is not breast feeding a baby. 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. Galactorrhoea is the spontaneous flow of milk from the breast, unassociated with childbirth or nursing. Galactorrhea produces a white fluid. If the fluid coming from your breast is reddish, your doctor may want to check you for cancer. Blood in the discharge is not galactorrhea.

During late stages of pregnancy and during breast feeding women normally may release milk from the nipples. Hormonal changes may occasionally lead to nipple discharge. At other times, however, nipple discharge may be a sign of a more serious underlying disease. These discharges may appear in several forms, including clear fluid, milky discharge and bloodstained discharge. Occasionally, the discharge may have pus in it.

Symptoms of Galactorrhea

Galactorrhea most commonly affects women ages 20 to 35 who've had at least one previous pregnancy. The hallmark sign of galactorrhea is nipple discharge. Usually the discharge is white or clear, but it can be yellow or green. Bloody nipple discharge isn't galactorrhea.

Galactorrhea symptoms are characterized by the production in discharge of milk from the breast. In lactating women this is normal and allows for nutrition for the newborn baby.

The primary symptom of galactorrhea is the discharge of milky fluid from both breasts. In women, galactorrhea may be associated with infertility, menstrual cycle irregularities, hot flushes, or amenorrhea--a condition where menstruation stops completely.

The milk is white. Women with galactorrhea commonly also have amenorrhea or oligomenorrhea. Women with galactorrhea and amenorrhea may also have symptoms and signs of estrogen deficiency, including dyspareunia, due to inhibition of pulsatile luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone release by high prolactin levels.

Causes of Galactorrhea

Galactorrhea often results from too much prolactin - the hormone responsible for milk production (lactation) when you have a baby. Prolactin is produced by your pituitary gland, a pea-sized gland at the base of your brain that secretes and regulates several hormones.

A tumor in the pituitary gland can cause this overproduction of prolactin. At least 30% of women with galactorrhea, menstrual abnormalities, and high prolactin levels have a pituitary gland tumor. Other types of brain tumors, head injuries, or encephalitis (an infection of the brain) can also cause galactorrhea.

Age: The proportion of the female population that is infertile increases with age. In one study, for example, less than 5% of women under the age of 20, 10% of the women between the ages of 20 and 30, and 15% of those between the ages of 30 and 35 were infertile. Fertility dropped dramatically around the age of 35, and as many as 25% to 30% of women older than 35 were infertile.

Milky discharges not associated with pregnancy or breast feeding are often associated with endocrine problems. These include hyperthyroidism and pituitary tumors

Tumors or growths in the ovaries or other reproductive organs in women, or in the testicles or related sexual organs of men can also stimulate the production of prolactin. Any discharge of fluid from the breast after a woman has passed menopause may indicate breast cancer. However, most often the discharge associated with breast cancer will be from one breast only. In galactorrhea both breasts are usually involved.

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