Galactorrhea

Definition - What does Galactorrhea mean?

Galactorrhea is nipple discharge experienced by someone who is not breastfeeding. While not an illness itself, galactorrhea may indicate the presence of a biological problem which can impact the sexual reproductive system and fertility. Thus, while galactorrhea itself would not hinder fertility, certain causes of the condition might.

One such condition is hyperprolactinemia, the presence of abnormally high prolactin in the blood stream and a cause of infertility. However, women of all ages, as well as men, children, and infants can be affected by galactorrhea.

FertilitySmarts explains Galactorrhea

The primary indicator of galactorrhea is a watery, cream-colored discharge that leaks from the nipples. The discharge may be intermittent or persistent. The discharge may leak without prompting or may be expelled by pressure or squeezing on the nipple. It may impact one or both nipples.

Galactorrhea is usually the result of a heightened level of the hormone prolactin in the body. Prolactin is stimulated by the pituitary gland, a small node at the base of the brain that controls the majority of sexual reproduction hormones.

90% of women of childbearing age diagnosed with galactorrhea also have hyperprolactinemia, high levels of prolactin in the body. The elevated amount of prolactin is problematic for women hoping to conceive, as it interferes with the development of women's two major sex hormones: estrogen and progesterone. High prolactin can prevent the production of these hormones, resulting in changes to or cessation of ovulation. It can also lead to abnormal menstruation, or missed menstrual periods. A lack of ovulation, or irregular ovulation, can prevent a woman from becoming pregnant. In men, galactorrhea resulting from high levels of prolactin may also be associated with impotence, low sperm development, and infertility.

Galactorrhea may be caused by several things:

  • Certain medications.
  • Hormonal birth control pills.
  • Drug use, including marijuana, cocaine or other opioids.
  • Abnormal or excessive breast stimulation (including sexual activity, breast exams, or clothing friction).
  • Tumors of the pituitary gland.
  • Hypothyroidism.

Galactorrhea with no known cause is called idiopathic galactorrhea.

To diagnose galactorrhea, a blood test to evaluate hormones is conducted along with an analysis of the nipple fluid and a physical exam. In some cases a mammography, ultrasound of the breast, or an MRI of the brain may be required.

Treatment of galactorrhea is based on resolving the cause, and may include discontinuation of medication, hormonal replacement therapy, or lifestyle changes. Additionally, medications may be prescribed to lower prolactin levels; the two most commonly prescribed are cabergoline and bromocriptine.

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