It is International Women’s Day! Women are in the news and for this years celebration, the focus is on pledging for parity. If you’re a man, what efforts are you making to help women in your life achieve their ambitions? Do you build them up or put them down…at home and/or in the workplace? If you’re a woman, what effort are you making to help other women fulfill their dreams and potentials?
Food for thought for all of us! In celebration of the day, we tackle a ‘mainly’ ‘woman’ issue
Q: Good evening ma’am. Please, I want to know what type of medicine I should take because I have breast milk coming out of my breast, although it is colourless. I am not breastfeeding any baby
A: There are different issues that can cause nipple discharge. The discharge can be bloody, milky, clear etc. The colour may not tell us much as to whether the discharge is normal or abnormal.
Causes of breast discharge include:
• Breastfeeding: The release of milk may also persist for a while even when breastfeeding has been stopped.
• Stimulation of the nipples during sexual foreplay or even pressing the nipple by people who are worried about the nipple discharge or friction between fabric and nipple can lead to nipple discharge.
• Breast abscess or infection
• Hormone imbalance
• Injury to the breast
• Some medications
• Cancer of the breast
Some women who are not pregnant may have milky fluid come out of their breasts when they are not breastfeeding or even in women who have never been pregnant. This is called galactorrhea (pronounced gulactoria). This is not a disease on its own but a symptom of a problem. The hormone, prolactin which is responsible for lactation in nursing mothers, is usually produced in these cases.
This milky fluid can be expressed by pressing or it can spontaneously come out on its own. It can affect one or both breasts and usually there are no blood stains involved.
Sometimes, the cause of this discharge may not be known but some causes could be some medications, some drugs like cocaine, spinal cord injuries, some birth control pills, stress and even excessive stimulation during sexual intercourse.
Galactorrhea can also happen in men and new born babies! In new born babies this can happen if the mother has a high level of estrogen which crosses over into the baby and stimulates the formation of breast tissue and sometimes, some milky white discharge. Please note: this is NOT witchcraft! 😀
If you notice this, please visit your doctor who may try to express this discharge to study. The discharge may also be clear (as in your case), bloody or even tinged yellow. These need further evaluation and the presence of lumps should also be checked for. The level of prolactin will also be assessed. This may, however, be normal in people who are overly sensitive to prolactin. In this class of people, prolactin level is normal but there is still milky discharge from the nipples.
To determine cause, the doctor may do a scan, take tissue sample to examine (biopsy) etc
Bloody discharge, discharge from one breast only and discharge that happens spontaneously without the breast being touched or pressed is likely to be abnormal. These should be checked out as soon as possible in the hospital.
If the discharge is present during a menstrual period and persists into the next cycle, please see your doctor too.
Treatment is focused on the underlying cause if one can be found. If the problem is medication, please stop or switch to something else under the supervision of your physician (doctor). If there is a tumour producing prolactin, drugs can be taken to shrink it or surgery can be done. If no cause is found, drugs that reduce prolactin level are prescribed. Remember, that you could be pregnant and so a pregnancy test may not be out of place. If due to pregnancy or breastfeeding, it will eventually stop. If due to stimulation, the discharge will continue as long as the stimulation is present. If due to injury, it will also stop with healing. If the discharge is due to medication, stopping the medication is sufficient to bring this to a stop.
In the meantime, breast pads can be worn to prevent the embarrassing leaks from staining clothes, limit manipulation of breasts either by self-breast examination or during sexual activity and try not to wear clothes in which there would be friction between the nipples and the material.
Here’s wishing all you wonderful International Women’s Day!
Have a great one 😀