Read below about nipple discharge, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your nipple discharge from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

This symptom can also be referred to as:
Fluid from nipples

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Nipple Discharge Symptoms

Discharge from one or both nipples, called galactorrhea, can seem alarming, but it is usually not a sign of a serious medical condition. It can even be a completely normal physiological process. The characteristics of the discharge will vary based on the underlying cause. A detailed description of the color, when the discharge occurs, and accompanying symptoms will allow a medical provider to determine whether laboratory tests and imaging are needed.

Symptoms that can be associated with nipple discharge include:

  • Bloody, clear, milky, yellow, or black discharge
  • Discharge that occurs spontaneously or only when pinching the nipple
  • Discharge from just one or both nipples
  • Discharge from a single location on the nipple or from multiple spots
  • Breast pain and redness
  • Breast mass
  • An irregular menstrual cycle
  • Headache
  • Decreased peripheral vision

Nipple Discharge Causes Overview

Normal hormonal changes:

An elevated level of prolactin, the hormone that stimulates lactation, can cause production of breast milk.

  • Pregnancy: Increased levels of estrogen in pregnancy can cause milky nipple discharge.
  • Breastfeeding: After delivery of a baby, milk is produced and released from the nipples to allow breastfeeding.

Abnormal hormonal changes:

Certain medical conditions and medications can cause elevated prolactin in the absence of pregnancy or breastfeeding. In addition to causing nipple discharge, high prolactin commonly causes menstruation to stop.

  • Thyroid disorders: An abnormally low level of thyroid hormone can indirectly lead to high prolactin levels. Other possible symptoms of low thyroid hormone include constipation, fatigue and constantly feeling cold.
  • Pituitary tumor: A tumor in the pituitary gland in the brain can cause increased prolactin levels. This condition can be associated with headaches and decreased peripheral vision.
  • Medication side effect: Certain medications cause a decrease in dopamine, which normally inhibits prolactin. As a result, prolactin increases and stimulates milky nipple discharge. Antipsychotic medications commonly have this side effect. In addition, some antidepressants and antihypertensives can also cause galactorrhea.
  • Chronic medical conditions: Liver or kidney disease can cause elevated prolactin, leading to milky nipple discharge.
  • Chest wall abnormalities: Injury, infection, or surgery of the chest wall can cause abnormal signaling that results in high prolactin and nipple discharge.

Breast conditions:

  • Benign breast problems: Abnormalities of one or more of the ducts that transport milk to the surface of the nipple can cause discharge. The most common causes are the presence of a growth or blockage within a duct. Changes in the breasts around the time of menstruation can also cause nipple discharge.
  • Breast infection: An infection can cause nipple discharge filled with pus. The breasts are particularly vulnerable to infection during breastfeeding. Typically, there will also be redness and pain.
  • Breast cancer: Very rarely, nipple discharge can be a sign of cancer in the breast. In this case the discharge will be present on just one side and there will likely be other symptoms such as a mass or a rash on the nipple.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Nipple Discharge

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced nipple discharge. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.High Prolactin Hormone Level

    Hyperprolactinemia is a common hormonal disorder in which there are higher than normal levels of prolactin in the blood.

    Depending on the severity of illness, therapy ranges from watchful waiting to medication or surgery.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    headache, vaginal bleeding, irregular period, decreased sex drive, enlargement of breasts
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Physiologic Breast Discharge

    Physiologic breast discharge is any fluid that comes out of the nipple area in your breast.

    Variable

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    nipple discharge, randomly leaking fluid from the breast
    Symptoms that never occur with physiologic breast discharge:
    breast lump
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

    Nipple Discharge Checker

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  3. 3.Breast Cancer

    Breast cancer affects one in eight women during their lives. It is caused by uncontrolled and fast growth of damaged cells in the breast tissue. These cells can also move to the lymph nodes and sometimes other organs. The main symptom of breast cancer is a hard or firm, non-mobile, usually non-tender lump in the breast that increases in size.

    Indefinite

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    breast pain, armpit lump, breast mass or retraction, breast lump, nipple discharge
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.Intraductal Papilloma

    Breast problems such as lumps are very common and often not caused by breast cancer. An intraductal papilloma is such a benign breast lump situated in the milk ducts.

    Most often, removal of the lump is needed to prevent it from becoming cancerous on the long term.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    breast lump, painful breast lump, painless breast lump, white or clear fluid leaking from the breast, nipple lump
    Symptoms that never occur with intraductal papilloma:
    armpit lump
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  5. 5.Prolactinoma

    Prolactinomas are common non-cancerous pituitary tumors. This growth causes too much of the hormone prolactin to be produced.

    Treatment is dependent on size of growth as well as symptom severity.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    headache, vision changes, decreased sex drive, impotence, milky fluid leaking from the breast
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Nipple Discharge Treatments and Relief

Most causes of nipple discharge symptoms do not require urgent evaluation. A breast infection is one exception, since the infection could spread to the rest of the body.

Seek emergency nipple discharge treatment if:

  • You have rapidly progressing redness, pain, and warmth of the breast.
  • You have a fever and chills.

In some cases, even though emergency treatment isn't necessary, you may need medical evaluation. This can include laboratory tests and imaging in order to make a diagnosis and determine the best treatment.

Make an appointment with your medical provider if:

  • You recently started a new medication.
  • Your nipple discharge is present only on one side.
  • You notice a mass in the breast.
  • Your discharge appears spontaneously (without squeezing the nipples).
  • You have bloody or clear discharge.

Your medical provider may prescribe one or more of the following treatments, depending on the cause of the nipple discharge:

  • Stopping a medication that may be responsible.
  • Starting a medication to decrease prolactin levels.
  • Starting a medication to treat a thyroid disorder.
  • Antibiotics and/or drainage to treat a breast infection.
  • Referral to a surgeon if a tumor in the breast or pituitary gland has been discovered on imaging.

Some home treatments may help with nipple discharge:

  • Wear loose clothing and avoid stimulating the nipples.
  • Cover the nipples with pads to prevent clothes from getting stained or wet.
  • If you are breastfeeding, continue to breastfeed and make sure your breasts get completely drained.
  • Warm compresses can help with discomfort.

FAQs About Nipple Discharge

Here are some frequently asked questions about nipple discharge.

Can hormones cause nipple discharge?

An elevated level of the hormone prolactin causes milk production in the breasts, leading to nipple discharge. This occurs as a normal part of pregnancy and breastfeeding. In addition, medical conditions that cause a high level of the prolactin can lead to milky nipple discharge. In some cases the high prolactin is caused by changes in other hormones, such as estrogen and thyroid hormone.

What causes breasts to leak when not pregnant?

Several medical conditions can cause milk production when you are not pregnant or breastfeeding. These include hypothyroidism (low levels of thyroid hormone), a tumor of the pituitary gland, and liver or kidney disease. Some medications can also cause milk production as a side effect.

Why is there a clear discharge from my breast when squeezed?

Nipple discharge that only occurs with squeezing is usually normal, “physiologic” discharge with no underlying medical cause. However, you should see a medical provider for evaluation if the discharge comes from only one breast; if it continues even if you stop stimulating the nipple; if you notice a mass; or if the discharge becomes bloody or straw-colored.

Why do I have nipple discharge before my period?

Nipple discharge can occur as part of the fibrocystic breast changes that happen before menstruation in some people. In this case the discharge will likely be bilateral and dark in color. In addition, the breasts will become tender and lumpy.

Why do I discharge from one nipple?

Discharge from only one nipple is likely caused by a process occurring only in that breast. Possible causes include a breast infection, blockage of a duct, or a type of benign growth called an intraductal papilloma. Rarely, discharge from just one nipple can be a sign of breast cancer. Unilateral nipple discharge should be evaluated by a medical provider.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Nipple Discharge

  • Q.Has anyone in your family had cancer?
  • Q.Do you currently smoke?
  • Q.When was your last menstrual period?
  • Q.What color is your discharge?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our nipple discharge symptom checker to find out more.

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Nipple Discharge Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced nipple discharge have also experienced:

    • 15% Breast Pain
    • 3% Fatigue
    • 3% Vaginal Discharge
  • People who have experienced nipple discharge had symptoms persist for:

    • 38% Over a Month
    • 27% Less Than a Day
    • 19% Less Than a Week
  • People who have experienced nipple discharge were most often matched with:

    • 40% Breast Cancer
    • 30% High Prolactin Hormone Level
    • 30% Physiologic Breast Discharge
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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