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Breast and nipple discharge: What it could mean

Discharge or fluid leaking from a nipple can be a concern for a woman who isn’t pregnant or breastfeeding.

In these cases, seek medical advice any time you notice breast discharge. Based on your symptoms and the results of any diagnostic tests, your doctor will decide on the best course of action.

What is normal and what is abnormal nipple discharge?

Bloody nipple discharge is never normal. Other signs of abnormality include nipple discharge from only one breast and discharge that occurs spontaneously without anything touching or without any irritation of your breast.

Colour isn't usually helpful in deciding if the discharge is normal or abnormal. Both abnormal and normal nipple discharge can be clear, yellow, white, or green in colour.

Normal nipple discharge more commonly occurs in both nipples and is often released when the nipples are compressed or squeezed. Some women who are concerned about breast secretions may actually cause it to worsen. They do this by repeatedly squeezing their nipples to check for nipple discharge. In these instances, leaving the nipples alone may help the condition to improve.

Based on your medical evaluation, your doctor will determine whether your nipple discharge is normal (physiological) or abnormal (pathological). Even if your doctor determines your breast discharge is abnormal, bear in mind that most pathological conditions that cause nipple discharge are not serious and are easily treated.

What might cause normal nipple discharge?

Some causes of normal nipple discharge include:

  • Pregnancy. In the early stages of pregnancy, some women notice clear breast discharge coming from their nipples. At later stages of pregnancy, this discharge may take on a watery, milky appearance.
  • Stopping breastfeeding. Even after you have stopped breastfeeding your baby, you may notice that a milk-like breast discharge persists for a while.
  • Stimulation. Nipples may secrete fluid when they are stimulated or squeezed, for example while making love. Normal nipple discharge may also occur when your nipples are repeatedly chafed by your bra or during vigorous physical exercise, such as jogging.

 

What causes abnormal nipple discharge and can it be non-cancerous?

A number of non- cancerous conditions can cause nipple discharge.

If your initial medical evaluation indicates the discharge is abnormal, your doctor may recommend more tests. The tests will help determine the underlying condition causing the problem and may include one or more of the following:

  • Laboratory analysis of the discharge
  • Blood tests
  • Mammogram and/or ultrasound of one or both breasts
  • A brain scan
  • Surgical removal and analysis of one or more ducts in your nipple

Possible causes of abnormal discharge include:

Fibrocystic breast changes. Fibrocystic refers to the presence or development of fibrous tissue and cysts. Fibrocystic changes in your breasts may cause lumps or thickenings in your breast tissue. However, they do not indicate the presence of cancer. In addition to causing pain and itching, fibrocystic breast changes can, at times, cause secretion of clear, white, yellow, or green nipple discharge.

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