What is galactorrhea

A. Galactorrhea literally means “flow of milk.” It refers to milky discharge from the nipple of the breast not associated with the normal lactation of nursing. Galactorrhea usually occurs from both breasts. It also may be associated with absence of menstrual periods (amenorrhea).

The problem of galactorrhea is complex and its cause may not be determined in many instances. A relatively common cause is the presence of a small tumor of the pituitary gland (at the base of the brain) called a prolactinoma.

Prolactin is the pituitary hormone that stimulates the breast to produce milk during normal lactation. Prolactin also may suppress ovulation and lead to amenorrhea. In addition to prolactin-producing tumors, low thyroid function (hypothyroidism) and certain drugs, including some tranquilizers, antidepressants, blood pressure medications and oral contraceptives, may lead to galactorrhea.

Galactorrhea may occur in men as well as women. Men who have excessive prolactin also may experience decrease in sexual interest or drive (decreased libido) or loss of erectile function (erectile dysfunction).

The occurrence of galactorrhea in the absence of hypothyroidism or use of a medication known to cause the problem warrants a careful evaluation, including determination of prolactin levels and possible imaging studies of the pituitary gland.

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