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Galactorrhea is a topic covered in the 5-Minute Clinical Consult.

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  • Milky nipple discharge not associated with gestation or present >1 year after weaning. Galactorrhea does not include serous, purulent, or bloody nipple discharge.
  • System(s) affected: endocrine/metabolic, nervous, reproductive
Pregnancy Considerations
  • Most cases of galactorrhea during pregnancy are physiologic.
  • Pregnancy stimulates lactotroph cells, so pituitary prolactin-secreting macroadenomas may increase by 21% (1)[A].


  • Predominant age: 15 to 50 years (reproductive age)
  • Predominant sex: female > male (rare, e.g., in patients with multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 [MEN1], the most common anterior pituitary tumors are prolactinomas)

6.8% of women referred to physicians with a breast complaint have nipple discharge.

Etiology and Pathophysiology

  • Lactation is stimulated by prolactin, which is secreted in pulses by the anterior pituitary, inhibited by dopamine produced in the hypothalamus.
  • Galactorrhea results either from prolactin overproduction or loss of inhibitory regulation by dopamine.
    • Afferent neural stimulation
      • Nipple stimulation
      • Chest wall trauma
      • Spinal cord injury
      • Herpes zoster
    • Organic hyperprolactinemia
      • Prolactinoma
      • Craniopharyngiomas
      • Meningiomas or other tumors
      • Sarcoid
      • Irradiation
      • Vascular malformations (aneurysms)
      • Pituitary stalk compression
      • Multiple sclerosis (MS) (with hypothalamic lesion)
      • Post-breast augmentation surgery (1%)
      • Traumatic injury
    • Functional hyperprolactinemia
      • Hypothyroidism
      • Adrenal insufficiency
      • Cirrhosis
      • Chronic kidney disease
      • Lung cancer
      • Renal cell cancer
    • Medications that suppress dopamine:
      • Typical and atypical antipsychotics
      • SSRIs (prolactin not always elevated)
      • Tricyclic antidepressants
      • H2 blockers
      • Reserpine
      • α-Methyldopa
      • Verapamil
      • Estrogens
      • Isoniazid
      • Opioids
      • Stimulants
      • Neuroleptics
      • Metoclopramide
      • Domperidone
      • Protease inhibitors
    • Postoperative condition, especially oophorectomy
    • Idiopathic
      • Normal prolactin levels

General Prevention

  • Frequent nipple stimulation can cause galactorrhea.
  • Avoid medications that can suppress dopamine.

Commonly Associated Conditions

See “Etiology and Pathophysiology.”

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Stephens, Mark B., et al., editors. "Galactorrhea." 5-Minute Clinical Consult, 27th ed., Wolters Kluwer, 2019. Medicine Central, im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/116236/all/Galactorrhea.
Galactorrhea. In: Stephens MB, Golding J, Baldor RA, et al, eds. 5-Minute Clinical Consult. 27th ed. Wolters Kluwer; 2019. https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/116236/all/Galactorrhea. Accessed March 24, 2019.
Galactorrhea. (2019). In Stephens, M. B., Golding, J., Baldor, R. A., & Domino, F. J. (Eds.), 5-Minute Clinical Consult. Available from https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/116236/all/Galactorrhea
Galactorrhea [Internet]. In: Stephens MB, Golding J, Baldor RA, Domino FJ, editors. 5-Minute Clinical Consult. Wolters Kluwer; 2019. [cited 2019 March 24]. Available from: https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/116236/all/Galactorrhea.
* Article titles in AMA citation format should be in sentence-case
TY - ELEC T1 - Galactorrhea ID - 116236 ED - Stephens,Mark B, ED - Golding,Jeremy, ED - Baldor,Robert A, ED - Domino,Frank J, BT - 5-Minute Clinical Consult, Updating UR - https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/116236/all/Galactorrhea PB - Wolters Kluwer ET - 27 DB - Medicine Central DP - Unbound Medicine ER -