Nipple discharge can be caused by a wide range of conditions, most of which are harmless or easily treated.
Some of the main causes of nipple discharge are described below.
See your Dr if you’re unsure of the cause of your discharge or you’re embarrassed or worried, especially if the discharge is bloodstained or clear and only comes from one nipple, or if you’re a man with nipple discharge.
For women, one of the most obvious explanations for fluid leaking from the nipple is that you’re pregnant or currently breastfeeding, as this can cause a milky discharge to come from both nipples.
In pregnancy, the breasts may start to produce milk from as early as the second trimester, and some women continue to produce milk up to two years after stopping breastfeeding.
If pregnancy has been ruled out, it’s likely that your nipple discharge is caused by one of the following conditions:
- duct papilloma – a harmless growth inside your breast duct (the tube that carries milk from the gland to the nipple) that typically causes bloodstained discharge from one breast
- duct ectasia – a harmless, age-related breast change that can result in a cheesy or discoloured discharge from both breasts
- breast or nipple abscess – a painful collection of pus forming in the breast tissue or around the nipple, usually as a result of bacterial infection
More unusual causes
Less common causes of nipple discharge are:
- the contraceptive pill – discharge can be a temporary side effect of starting the pill (some women also get breast tenderness and breast enlargement)
- fluctuating hormones from puberty or the
- previous breastfeeding – some women continue to produce milk up to two years after they’ve stopped breastfeeding
- stimulation of the nipples – for example, through sex
- medication that causes raised levels of the milk-producing hormone prolactin – this includes SSRI antidepressants and tranquillisers
- a type of non-cancerous brain tumour called a prolactinoma, which causes raised levels of prolactin
- a hormone problem – such as an underactive thyroid gland or Cushing’s syndrome
- a clogged milk duct called a galactocele – which is usually associated with childbirth and can cause a milky or creamy discharge along with a painless lump
- an early form of breast cancer called carcinoma in situ, which is found inside the milk ducts and hasn’t yet spread (it’s usually picked up during breast cancer screening )
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