Nipple discharge

What is nipple discharge?

Nipple discharge refers to any fluid that comes out of your nipple. It can either be squeezed out or sometimes seeps out on its own. It is common in women during pregnancy and breastfeeding and isn’t always a cause of cancer, however, you should get it evaluated by a specialist just to be sure. Any man that experiences nipple discharge should always see a specialist about it.

What does nipple discharge look like?

It can come out of one or both nipples spontaneously or after you squeeze your nipple or breast. It can be milky, clear, yellow, green, brown or bloody. It can come out of a single duct or multiple ducts and the consistency can vary from being thick and sticky to thin or watery.

What are the causes of nipple discharge in women?

For women, the colour of the discharge can give you a clue as to what is causing it.

  • Yellow, white, cloudy or filled with pus — this often indicates that an infection is present
  • Brown — if the discharge is brown then it can suggest a blocked milk duct
  • Bloody — if the discharge looks like it consists of blood, then it may suggest papilloma or breast cancer
  • Clear — if it is only coming out of one breast, it may be a sign of breast cancer

During pregnancy or breastfeeding, milk can leak out of your breasts. This is very common and can even be at the beginning of your pregnancy and last for up to three years after you stop breastfeeding.

If you aren’t pregnant or breastfeeding then discharge may be caused by:

  • An infection
  • Duct papilloma
  • Certain medications
  • Too much stimulation of the breast area
  • Birth control pills
  • Hormone changes during periods or menopause
  • Trauma
  • Endocrine disorders
  • Galactorrhea
  • Fibrocystic breasts
  • Mammary duct ectasia
  • An underactive thyroid gland
  • Prolactinoma
  • A non-cancerous tumour
  • Breast cancer

What causes nipple discharge in men?

Nipple discharge in men is not normal. If you are experiencing this, you should see your doctor to get an examination done. Some of the common causes of male nipple discharge include:

  • Gynecomastia (breast enlargement)
  • Testosterone deficiency
  • Pituitary tumour
  • Breast cancer

What other symptoms may be present?

For women, as well as having discharge, there may be some other symptoms accompanying it, however, it depends on the underlying cause. For example:

  • Pain in the breast area
  • Lump or swelling in or around the nipple
  • Nipple colour changes
  • Nipple changes such as the nipple turning inward redness
  • Breast size changes
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue

How is nipple discharge diagnosed?

While it is most likely nothing to worry about, nipple discharge can be a sign of breast cancer so you should get this checked out by a doctor. They will ask you about your symptoms and when the discharge started and will need to check the breasts for lumps or other signs of cancer.

Tests may be needed such as a biopsy, mammogram, ultrasound or a ductogram (galactogram) to examine the milk ducts inside your breasts. Blood and urine tests may also be needed to rule out pregnancy.

How is it treated?

Once the doctor has diagnosed the cause, then treatment will be given accordingly. Often, due to hormonal changes, for example, the discharge doesn’t need treating and will go away on its own.

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