Nipple discharge is the term for the passage of liquid through nipples. It may happen spontaneously or due to manipulation of breast tissues. It is not something to be concerned about, but it may occasionally lead to health issues.
Nipple discharge is possible at any age and in women and men. Read on to know more about nipple discharge, its causes, and when to consult a doctor.
What is Nipple discharge?
Nipple discharge can be normal and abnormal, depending on its type, colour, and individual health conditions. If you are a breastfeeding mother, it is likely to occur . However, in other cases, you should monitor the condition.
Nipple discharge is a common breast condition . According to a study, 80% of women have nipple discharge at least once in their reproductive years. The severity, risk factors, and treatments depend on the nature of the discharge.
A nipple discharge in the following conditions can be normal:
- While taking a warm shower.
- Breast stimulation during sex.
- A person diagnosed with thyroid disorders
- Any disease that affects hormones, i.e., PCOD, PCOS, etc
- When people take medications like birth control pills, blood pressure medications , antidepressants, opiates, etc.
What are the Causes of Nipple Discharge?
Hormonal changes are responsible for nipple discharge. The colour and the type of liquid may reveal the cause. It is advisable to look at the other symptoms as well. Some causes of nipple discharge include :
Potential causes of nipple discharge include:
- Birth control pills
- Breast infection
- Endocrine disorders
- Excessive breast stimulation
- Breast cancer
- Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)
- Injury or trauma to the breast
- Fibrocystic breasts (lumpy or rope-like breast tissue)
- Mammary duct ectasia
- Medication use
- Intraductal papilloma (benign wartlike growth in the milk duct)
- Paget’s disease of the breast
- Periductal mastitis
- Menstrual cycle hormone changes
- Pregnancy and breast-feeding
What are the Types of Nipple Discharge?
Nipple discharge categories by their types are:
- Normal milk production (lactation).
- Physiologic nipple discharge (galactorrhea).
- Pathologic (suspicious) nipple discharge.
All types of nipple discharge can be normal or abnormal. They may or may not require treatment, depending on individual health conditions.
- a) Clear Discharge
A clear watery discharge can occur in women and men at any age. Nipple discharge due to stimulation or frequent squeezing can be responsible for a clear discharge.
Breasts have a nature to respond strongly to stimulation.
b] White Discharge
White discharge is a common condition in pregnant and nursing women. In non-pregnant and non-nursing women, white nipple discharge is still not a cause for concern. It happens as a response to breast or nipple stimulation. This milky white discharge is what doctors refer to as galactorrhea.
While nipple discharge can occur due to the following reasons:
- Hormone-affecting medications
- Herbal supplements like anise and fennel
- Estrogen supplements
- Hormonal imbalance
c) Yellow Discharge
Yellow discharge is common in women nearing menopause. The condition often arises in individuals with mammary duct ectasia. This is when the milk duct gets thicker and blocked in the walls of the breast. It further causes discharge from the nipples.
You can minimize duct ectasia with warm compressors. However, if it causes breast pain, your doctor may recommend surgical treatment.
d) Green Discharge
Green nipple discharge sometimes signifies infection. Infections majorly occur during breastfeeding or post-breast injury. A breast injury can be a sign of clogged milk ducts.
The following are the symptoms of breast infection:
- A condition of pain, itching, burning in breasts.
- A hot spot in the breasts.
- Flu-like or fever symptoms.
- Swollen spot in breasts.
- Change in milk production.
e) Red Discharge
Red discharge from the nipple is uncommon. However, it can be frequent and at no risk in nursing parents. Yet, you should consult a doctor if it continues.
One cause of red discharge can be benign papilloma. The condition may cause lumps and unilateral discharge.
Although bloody discharge may resolve on its own, your doctor may recommend a breast ultrasound and a diagnostic mammogram to see what is causing the discharge. You may also require a biopsy to exclude a cancer and confirm that it is a papilloma . If biopsy confirms a papilloma, then your doctor may refer you to a surgeon for discussing the treatment options.
Nipple discharge often stems from a benign condition. However, breast cancer is a possibility, especially if:
- Only one breast is affected
- You have a lump in the breast
- The discharge is persistent and spontaneous
- The discharge affects only a single duct
- The discharge has blood or is clear
When to See a Doctor?
Visiting a doctor is always advisable for any kind of nipple discharge. Even if the condition is normal and there are no alarming symptoms, it may signify underlying health issues.
Visit a doctor if you observe any of the following symptoms:
- Breast pain and swelling.
- Painful breastfeeding.
- Lumps in the breasts.
- Changes in breast shape.
- Nipple discharge changes in colour.
- Bloody or red discharge.
Expert doctors at Apollo Hospitals can help investigate and treat nipple discharge.
Call 1860-500-1066 to book an appointment.
How to Prevent Nipple Discharge?
Nipple discharge is not something you can stop. It is natural and common, and it can be frequent. You can opt for certain solutions that may help. These are:
- Avoid nipple stimulation.
- Use a warm compressor.
- If you are a breastfeeding mother, feed your child more frequently.
How Do Doctors Treat Nipple Discharge?
The treatment of nipple discharge depends on its underlying causes. The treatment may vary from just a consultation with a doctor to medication and surgical treatments.
- Nipple discharge later during pregnancy is no big issue. Consult a doctor, and s/he will reassure you and suggest certain remedies.
- In the case of a breast infection, you may treat it with antibiotic medications. It may require draining sometimes.
- Surgical treatment is useful in treating intraductal papillomas.
- You can treat the condition of mammary duct ectasia with warm compressors.
- Fibrocystic disease is a condition where breast cyst aspiration can help.
Nipple discharge is one of the most common breast complications. However, if you experience an abnormal nipple discharge for a longer period, consult a doctor.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- Why do I have nipple discharge before periods?
Nipple discharge is a natural function of the breasts. It happens due to hormone changes. Thus, it can be associated with periods. If you have nipple discharge before your periods, there is nothing to be concerned about.
- Are nipple discharge and late menstruation a sign of pregnancy?
No. Nipple discharge is normal during an individual’s reproductive years. Even though a woman is pregnant, nipple discharge can occur. Missing menstruation can be a sign of pregnancy, but it does not necessarily mean you are expecting a baby. Moreover, there is no proven evidence that says nipple discharge indicates pregnancy.
- Is bloody nipple discharge a sign of breast cancer?
- No. A bloody nipple discharge is not always a sign of breast cancer. However, if you experience a frequent red discharge along with other symptoms, you should visit a doctor to know the causes and prevent breast cancer.
- What is the link between hormones and nipple discharge?
The discharge unrelated to pregnancy is called Galactorrhoea. The situation arises due to excessive production of prolactin. However, when a woman gets pregnant, she experiences hormonal changes that produce colostrum. In some cases, if you are taking estrogen supplements, you are more likely to experience nipple discharge due to imbalanced hormones.