What is Galactorrhea?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Galactorrhea is a condition in which a person who is not breastfeeding produces breastmilk, or in which a breastfeeding mother produces excessive breast milk. People with galactorrhea experience a milky discharge from their nipples. This condition occurs in both men and women, as men have the glandular tissue to produce breastmilk, albeit in smaller amounts than seen in women.

A breastfeeding mother producing too much breast milk is experiencing galactorrhea.
A breastfeeding mother producing too much breast milk is experiencing galactorrhea.

There are a number of potential causes for galactorrhea. One cause is overstimulation of the breasts, as this may send a signal to the brain that a baby is trying to latch on and breastfeed. Hormonal imbalances can also cause it. These balances may be caused by a number of things, including medications, hormonal birth control, or tumors on the pituitary gland.

While galactorrhea itself is fairly benign, although it may be annoying, it can be a sign that a more serious problem is occurring. For this reason, it is a good idea to see a doctor for some diagnostic testing. The doctor can explore potentially harmful causes such as pituitary tumors to rule these causes out or identify them, if they are behind the sudden breastmilk production. Testing can include blood tests to check hormone levels and medical imaging studies.

Sometimes, a cause cannot be identified, and the galactorrhea may resolve on its own. In other cases, adjusting a patient's medication can resolve the condition, or a patient can take drugs to suppress the production of breastmilk. In the case of a pituitary tumor, medications are available to manage the hormone imbalances, and various treatment options are available for the tumor itself.

Patients who experience persistent galactorrhea with no known cause may want to seek out a second opinion. An endocrinologist, for example, may have more insight, and may be familiar with the latest medical information. This information could be relevant to a patient's experiences, and might be used to get to the bottom of the unusual breastmilk production.

Because the condition can sometimes be a sign of a more serious problem, people should not ignore galactorrhea when it occurs. While it may seem only novel or peculiar, it can be a cause for concern until a doctor has ruled out potential malignancies and other issues which may have triggered the production of breastmilk. Once the doctor has confirmed that the condition is truly benign, the patient can return to marveling at the fact that mammals are able to produce a nutritious foodstuff inside their own bodies.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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