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Breast Discharge

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Definition

Breast discharge is release of any type of fluid from the breasts other than breast milk. This can be a symptom of infection, inflammation or a tumor in the breast. Breast milk is also a type of breast discharge and is considered physiological (normal) in women who are pregnant or breast feeding (lactation). However, release of breast milk due to imbalance in the hormones causing milk production (prolactin) are out of balance. This condition is called galactorrhea.

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Types

  • Non-spontaneous breast discharge - This type of breast discharge is associated with pregnancy, infection, inflammation, breast feeding, hormonal imbalance or benign growth in the milk ducts. This type of discharge occurs by pressing or squeezing the nipple.

  • Spontaneous breast discharge - This type of breast discharge is definitely a serious problem and something to be concerned about. The discharge comes from the breast spontaneously, without pressing or stimulating it. The discharge may consist of blood or breast milk. Galactorrhea is a type of spontaneous discharge of fluid from the nipples. This can be a side of a medication or may be caused by a non cancerous tumor in the pituitary gland (pituitary adenoma, also known as prolactinoma), decreased thyroid function (hypothyroidism), or certain types of cancer.

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Causes

  • Breast abscess
  • Imbalance of hormones involved in the production of breast milk
  • Intraductal papilloma
  • Ductal atresia.
  • Benign (non-cancerous) growth in the pituitary gland e.g. pituitary adenoma or prolactinoma.
  • Stress
  • Trauma to the breast
  • Sexual stimulation
  • Medications like birth control pills, marijuana, narcotics, anesthetics, reserpine, methyldopa (Aldomet), cimetidine, metoclopramide, phenothiazines, reserpine, tricyclic antidepressants, or verapamil.

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Symptoms

  • Fluid like discharge from the nipple that may be clear, cloudy, white, yellow, green or brown and may contain blood.
  • Pus discharge coming from the breasts.
  • The discharge may be coming from one breast or both the breasts.
  • The discharge may be spontaneous (without pressing or squeezing the nipple) or non-spontaneous (comes out only if the nipple is squeezed or pressed)
  • There may be other changes in the areola (dark area around the nipple) or rest of the breast tissue.

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Implications

Discharge from the breast other than milk in a woman who is not pregnant or breast feeding can be worrisome. A physician should be consulted immediately for prompt evaluation and treatment of the problem. A surgical procedure may be performed to remove some tissue (biopsy) to investigate and determine the cause of discharge. If the liquid from the breast is not milk and is bloody, thin, white, green, or yellow, the cause is more likely to be a breast infection or tumor.

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What You Can Do

  • Surgery will be done to remove a small growth inside a milk duct in the breast (intraductal papilloma).

  • Medications may be used to control the growth of a small non-cancerous tumor in the pituitary gland (pituitary adenoma).

  • Surgery (trans-sphenoidal adenomectomy) may be done to remove a small non cancerous tumor in the pituitary gland (pituitary adenoma).

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Breast Discharge