Diseases

Galactorrhea – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Galactorrhea (diseased breast milk discharge)

Galactorrhea – the abnormal discharge of milk from the breast  is a disease of the mammary gland, in which there is a secretion of milky secretion from the mammary gland. The disease can occur on one or both sides and often varies in severity. Although galactorrhea is actually a painless condition, the chest can be tight, which patients may find painful.

What is galactorrhea?

Galactorrhea, i.e. the abnormal discharge of milk from the breast, is a disease of the mammary gland in which milk secretions leak out of the nipple. Leaking milk is normal during pregnancy and breastfeeding , which is why galactorrhea is only considered a disease outside of these times.

In the case of galactorrhea, the milky secretion can escape either under slight pressure or even spontaneously. Unlike mammary gland abnormality (discharge of other secretions), galactorrhea is just one form of abnormal fluid secretion that causes milk to leak out.

The disease is usually due to hormonal disorders and fluctuations in the hormone balance and therefore does not have a really independent clinical picture. The hormone prolactin, which is produced by the pituitary gland, plays an important role in the development of the disease.

causes

The causes of galactorrhea are very different. As a rule, the disease develops due to an overproduction of the hormone prolactin. This hormone promotes milk production, which naturally promotes galactorrhea.

The main cause of galactorrhea are hormone disorders, but other causes are also conceivable. In the pituitary gland, which is responsible for the production of prolactin, there can also be a prolactinoma – i.e. a tumor that produces prolactin. In most cases, such a tumor is benign.

Mastitis (inflammation of the mammary gland), a benign breast tumor (milk duct papilloma) or an early stage of breast cancer can also be causes of galactorrhea. Galactorrhea can occur as a further cause of a physical nature as a result of an underactive thyroid gland .

Non-physical causes of galactorrhea are often drugs such as blood pressure medication, psychotropic drugs or gastrointestinal preparations and birth control pills . Drugs such as heroin and other opiates can also lead to this disease.

Non-morbid causes that can also cause galactorrhea include nipple stimulation, stress and physical exertion or even sexual intercourse.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

Galactorrhea is characterized by milky or clear discharge from the nipple. The secretions are mostly white to amber in color and relatively odorless. Milk can come out from one side or from both breasts. Usually a few drops to a few milliliters of milk are excreted per day. Galactorrhea usually does not cause any other symptoms.

However, some patients suffer from menstrual problems , such as delayed or premature menstrual bleeding, severe menstrual pain or cramps in the abdomen . Occasionally, the pathological discharge of breast milk is accompanied by a feeling of tension in the breasts. Galactorrhea is divided into three grades.

Grade 1 is associated with a small discharge of a few drops and slight menstrual pain. Second-degree galactorrhea usually means a noticeable discharge, often accompanied by a feeling of tenderness in the breasts and persistent menstrual cramps. In the third degree there is spontaneous secretion and various accompanying symptoms such as a feeling of illness or even fever .

Irrespective of the degree of discharge, inflammation in the nipple area , tenderness and overheating of the breasts can occur. The symptoms subside on their own after a few days or weeks and usually do not require medical treatment.

Diagnosis & History

Galactorrhea can normally only be diagnosed by a doctor. He will first inquire about the exact symptoms and draw up an anamnesis. The color and consistency of the escaping secretion are important for a reliable diagnosis, the menstrual cycle and possible medication intake are also important for an accurate diagnosis.

Palpable changes in the breast tissue can often be felt when the breast is scanned. In order to confirm the diagnosis of galactorrhea, a blood test is usually carried out in which the concentration of the hormones prolactin, progestin and estrogen is determined. The thyroid values ​​also play a part in the diagnosis. Ultrasound is also used for diagnosis . A mammogram is also useful.

In the run-up to this, a so-called galactography is carried out, in which a contrast medium is injected into the milk duct with a thin tube. With the mammography, the doctor can then see whether the milk ducts are closed or dilated. If a tumor is suspected, the doctor will order either an MRI or a CT scan .

As a rule, the course of galactorrhea is benign, which is why the prognosis is quite positive. The symptoms can often be treated well and have disappeared after therapy. Milk secretion can usually be stopped with medication. If the cause of galactorrhea is breast cancer , the further course always depends on the cancer stage and its therapy.

complications

Galactorrhea is caused by an excess of the hormone prolactin. A common reason for this phenomenon is the intake of certain psychotropic drugs that cause hormonal changes in the body (e.g. certain neuroleptics). Abnormal breast milk leakage is associated with numerous complications. The breast enlarges unnaturally, and those affected often have tension pains in the breast. So it’s not just an aesthetic problem.

Too much of the hormone prolactin can also cause menstrual disorders: This means that the natural menstrual period occurs only irregularly or does not occur at all. Over time, this can lead to osteoporosis in middle or older age. In addition, a possible desire to have children often remains unfulfilled because the ovaries and uterus are “sleeping”, so to speak.

An excess of the hormone prolactin fools the body into thinking that it is a permanent pregnancy, so that no more ovulation takes place. In addition, the likelihood of cancers such as breast cancer and uterine cancer is increased if galactorrhea is not treated. Those affected should have the hormone abnormalities in the body treated because of the potentially drastic consequences.

There are certain drugs on the market that can regulate prolactin levels. If these attempts fail, additional hormones must be released, which in turn are not free from risks such as an increased risk of cancer. Ideally, the medications that cause abnormal breast milk leakage can be discontinued or replaced with others that do not have these side effects.

When should you go to the doctor?

Women who have discharge from their breasts without having been pregnant and who have recently given birth should see a doctor. The production of breast milk outside of a gestation is considered unusual and should be examined by a doctor. If breast tenderness occurs that is not related to the imminent onset or presence of menstrual bleeding or pregnancy, a doctor should be consulted.

In the event of hormonal imbalances, mood swings and changes in libido, a doctor’s visit is advisable. If a persistent tearful state of mind, aggressive behavior tendencies or melancholic phases occur without any understandable reasons, a doctor should be consulted. Irregularities in the female menstrual cycle, severe stress and changes in living conditions can trigger galactorrhea. Medical help should be sought as soon as medical support is required to deal with the events.

If breast milk leaks out repeatedly or sporadically, or if the amount of liquid increases, the symptoms should be clarified by a doctor. A doctor should be consulted if there is chest pain, a general feeling of illness, inner restlessness or if you feel unwell. If the woman suffers from the aesthetic problem, feelings of shame develop or emotional problems set in, it is advisable for the complaints to be discussed with a doctor.

Treatment & Therapy

The treatment of galactorrhea depends heavily on the cause of the disease. In the case of hormone disorders and fluctuations, the doctor will probably seek drug treatment with bromocriptine . This active ingredient inhibits the action of the hormone prolactin.

This preparation is also often used in the case of a prolactinoma. It is only necessary to remove the prolactin if treatment with medication is unsuccessful – this is, however, only very rarely the case.

If galactorrhea is only an accompanying symptom of another disease, the underlying disease must first be treated in a targeted manner. If galactorrhea is the result of a breast infection , it makes sense to prescribe anti- inflammatory drugs or antibiotics .

Galactorrhea caused by medication can be expected to go away when the medication is stopped. If there is any suspicion, medication should only be discontinued after consulting a doctor. If necessary, there are also alternatives to the previous preparation.

Outlook & Forecast

The prognosis of galactorrhea depends on the underlying cause. When lactation occurs in women during lactation, it is considered natural and not considered a disease or disorder. With the process of weaning, there is usually an automatic regression of the symptoms until complete recovery takes place.

In the case of a hormone imbalance, relief of symptoms without treatment is rarely documented. The symptoms remain constant over a longer period of time or increase in intensity and scope. The hormone balance should be treated with medication so that the patient’s health improves. With optimal therapy, most patients experience healing.

In addition, a chronic course of the disease is also possible. As soon as the treatment is interrupted, a recurrence of the symptoms is to be expected. Patients found to be caused by an inflammatory process have a good chance of recovery. As soon as the pathogens have been killed and transported out of the organism, the symptoms subside. The healthier the body’s defense system is, the faster the healing process.

In the case of stress-related galactorrhea, a change in lifestyle is essential for healing. As soon as the emotional and mental stress is relieved, the symptoms are relieved.

prevention

Galactorrhea cannot be effectively prevented. General preventive measures are not known, since the pathological discharge of breast milk can be traced back to a wide variety of causes.

aftercare

In most cases, the options or measures of aftercare for galactorrhea are very limited. The person concerned is primarily dependent on a quick and, above all, early diagnosis, so that further complications and symptoms do not occur. Only by recognizing this complaint at an early stage can further restrictions on the quality of life be avoided.

Therefore, early diagnosis of galactorrhea is paramount. The treatment itself is usually carried out by taking medication, although self-healing cannot occur. Since antibiotics are also taken in most cases, those affected should ensure that they are taken regularly and that the dosage is correct.

The antibiotics usually have to be taken even after the symptoms have subsided. They should also not be taken together with alcohol, otherwise their effect will be weakened. In the case of galactorrhea, the nipples should also be checked regularly for inflammation so that they can also be identified and treated at an early stage.

If the symptoms have subsided, no further follow-up care is necessary. The patient’s life expectancy is also not negatively affected by this disease.

You can do that yourself

In the case of galactorrhea, patients should ensure that they wear protective clothing to avoid unpleasant situations in everyday life. This is to be chosen in such a way that people in the vicinity cannot see the milk flowing out, thus avoiding soaking. The use of nursing pads , which can be purchased in drugstores, is suitable.

Since the disease causes a feeling of tension in the chest, wearing very tight clothing should be avoided. This increases the internal pressure and tension even further. With loose-fitting clothing, the patient often has the feeling of being able to breathe more easily and feeling more comfortable.

Discussions with relatives, doctors and other patients help to reduce worries and fears. There are various digital contact points on the Internet where those affected can exchange information with each other and give each other help in coping with the symptoms in everyday life.

The tips described there can be tried out independently and strengthen the well-being of the patient. In addition, relaxation methods have proven to reduce stress in everyday life. Using techniques such as yoga or meditation , those affected can carry out exercises independently and according to their individual preferences in order to build up their mental strength.

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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.