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What Causes Nipple Discharge?

Learn what can cause nipple discharge and when it’s serious (and when it’s not).

By
Sanaz Majd, MD,
May 18, 2011

Page 1 of 2

Nancy is a 27-year-young woman who came to see me with a complaint of on and off nipple discharge over the past four weeks.  Nipple discharge, or what we nerdy doctors call galactorrhea, actually happens in about half of all women of child-bearing age, believe it or not.  And most of the time, it’s not anything serious to worry about.  But it’s still important to see your doctor just to be sure it’s not caused by a more serious health problem.

What Causes Nipple Discharge?

There are many potential causes of nipple discharge, so in order to find out what’s going on with Nancy, I asked her to describe her symptoms in more detail.  She said that her discharge is white and milky, it is coming from both breasts, and she is often able to express the discharge by squeezing her breasts.

Signs Your Nipple Discharge Isn’t Serious

Thankfully, Nancy’s description tends to be more consistent with benign causes.  Signs your nipple discharge isn’t serious include discharge that is:

  • from both breasts

  • easily produced by manipulation of the breasts

  • white, clear, or milky

More Serious Signs of Nipple Discharge

On the other hand, signs that your breast discharge might be more serious include discharge that:

  • occurs only in one breast

  • is spontaneous

  • is bloody or brown

  • is associated with a breast mass

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