Nipple discharge can be alarming. Many women immediately think that nipple discharge must mean they have cancer. But nipple discharge has many benign causes. While nipple discharge can be a cause for concern and prompt a visit to your doctor, there are many harmless reasons why you may experience this condition. Here are some causes of normal and abnormal nipple discharge in women.
What is Nipple Discharge?
Nipple discharge is any non-milk fluid that seeps from the nipple. Nipple discharge varies greatly in color and consistency. It may be milky, clear, yellow, green, brown, black, bloody, thick and sticky or thin and watery. Nipple discharge mostly affects women and can be influenced by diet, lifestyle and environmental factors. If a man experiences nipple discharge at any time he should seek medical attention immediately.
Causes of Normal Nipple Discharge
Nipple discharge is common during pregnancy. In the first trimester, a woman may experience clear or yellow tinted nipple discharge. In later pregnancy as the breasts prepare to produce milk, nipple discharge often becomes milky or cloudy in appearance. Some women may even have a bloody nipple discharge during pregnancy, though it is less common.
Nipple discharge can continue even after a woman stops breastfeeding. The discharge may appear thin and milky, similar to breast milk. This type of nipple discharge usually clears up on its own in time.
Breast Irritation & Stimulation
When the nipples are stimulated or squeezed they may leak fluid. This harmless nipple discharge can be caused by sexual arousal, irritation of nipples during vigorous exercise (especially running, jogging or aerobics), scratchy clothing or a poorly fitting bra. Removing the source of irritation or stimulation will stop the discharge.
Medications and Drugs
Prescription medications and illegal drugs can also cause nipple discharge in women. Medications that can cause discharge include antidepressants, anxiolytics, antihypertensives, antipsychotics, synthetic hormones such as Prempro, heartburn and peptic ulcer medications such as Tagamet, Pepcid and Zantac, amphetamines, anesthetics, oral contraceptives and some stomach and anti-nausea drugs. Marijuana and opiates can also cause nipples to secrete a harmless discharge.
Anise, fennel, nettle, blessed thistle, marshmallow, fennel, fenugreek, raspberry and red clover can all cause nipple discharge.
Non-Cancerous Causes of Abnormal Nipple Discharge
Once a doctor has determined that nipple discharge is abnormal (not caused by any of the conditions mentioned above), more testing will be conducted to find the cause.
These growths that occur in the milk ducts are not cancerous and are the leading cause of nipple discharge in women. Intraductal papillomas are similar to a wart and can cause a bloody or sticky discharge.
Mammary Duct Ectasia
Mammary duct ectasia most often occurs in women nearing menopause. This condition causes the milk ducts to expand, become inflamed and harden. This can cause the ducts to become blocked under the nipple, resulting in infection. Nipple discharge from this condition will most often be thick and green.
Mastitis is an infection of the breast and the leading cause of abnormal nipple discharge in breastfeeding women. If nipple discharge contains pus, it indicates infection is present. An infected breast may also be red, sore and warm to the touch. Breastfeeding women are particularly prone to mastitis, but it can affect any woman at any time. If you suspect you have mastitis, see your doctor for treatment.
If a woman’s hormones are imbalanced, nipple discharge may result.
If you have fibrocystic breast disease you may notice that periodically you also have some nipple discharge. Fibrocystic breasts are breasts that contain numerous cysts and thick fibrous tissue. The cysts and thickened breast tissue are more prone to changes due to hormones. This can cause nipple discharge that is clear, yellow, white or even green.
Some women secrete milk or a milk-like nipple discharge even though they are not currently breastfeeding. Galactorrhea is most commonly caused by hypothyroidism or a tumor of the pituitary gland.
Even minor trauma to the breast may cause nipple discharge. Because the discharge was caused by an injury, it may be bloody in color.
When most people think of abnormal nipple discharge, cancer immediately springs to mind. However, only 10% of all abnormal nipple discharge is actually the result of breast cancer. If discharge occurs in conjunction with a breast lump or an abnormal mammogram, occurs after age 40, contains blood or is only present in one breast it is more likely that it is caused by cancer.
Disclaimer: This article is intended for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of a physician or other medical professionals.
Women to Women