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Is It Normal To Have Nipple Discharge?

Imagine going about your daily business only to notice fluid coming out of your nipple. You know you are not breastfeeding but the question is then why is there fluid? That fluid is what we refer to as nipple discharge. If you notice a discharge from your nipple, there's no reason to panic. While it could be a little odd and alarming, It might not be necessarily a serious concern. In most cases, it could be normal and in others, it could be due to a minor condition. Now let’s learn more about the discharge.




What is normal and what is abnormal discharge?

The truth is, lots of women have nipple discharge from time to time. You might be wondering if colour and texture are used to distinguish between a healthy and unhealthy vaginal discharge, would it apply to nipple discharge as well? Well, not quite. 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. One way to know if it's an abnormal discharge is that it’s usually from only one breast and that it occurs spontaneously without anything touching, stimulating, or irritating your breast.


Normal nipple discharge occurs more commonly in both nipples and is often released when the nipples are compressed or squeezed. If you get too concerned about your breast secretions and start squeezing every other time, you may actually cause it to worsen. In such a case, leaving the nipples alone for a while may help the condition to improve.


What symptoms/signs should I look out for?

While it’s true that observing the colours may not always be helpful, there are some colours that could be more of a red flag.


Colour

Cause

bloody

papilloma breast cancer


brown or cheese-like

mammary duct ectasia (blocked milk duct)

green

cysts

white, cloudy, yellow, or filled with pus

breast cancer, especially if only coming from one breast papilloma

clear

an infection of the breast or nipple



Please note that you should never self-diagnose. Instead, see a doctor to get a proper diagnosis when you notice nipple discharge of any colour. The causes listed are only suggestions to give you a rough idea.

Discharge can also manifest in various textures. It may be thick, thin, or sticky. Some other symptoms of nipple discharge include:

  • missed periods

  • nausea or vomiting

  • fatigue

  • fever

  • redness

  • breast pain or tenderness

  • breast size changes i.e one breast that’s larger or smaller than the other

  • lump or swelling in the breast or around the nipple

  • nipple changes i.e turning inward, dimpling, changing colour, itching, or scaling

  • skin changes such as rash or lesions

What could 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. In the later stages of pregnancy, this discharge may take on a watery, milky appearance.

  • Stopping breastfeeding-Even after you have stopped nursing your baby, you may notice that a milk-like breast discharge continues for a while.

  • Stimulation- Nipples may secrete fluid when they are stimulated or squeezed. Normal nipple discharge may also occur when your nipples are repeatedly rubbed against by your bra or during vigorous physical exercise, such as jogging.

What about the causes of abnormal nipple discharge?

Not all causes of abnormal discharge are cancerous. Possible causes of abnormal discharge include:

  • Infection - Nipple discharge that contains pus may indicate an infection in your breast. This is also known as mastitis. Mastitis is usually seen in women who are breastfeeding. But it can develop in women who are not lactating.

  • Intraductal papilloma - These are noncancerous growths in the ducts of the breast. They are the most common reason women experience abnormal nipple discharge. When they become inflamed, intraductal papillomas may result in nipple discharge that contains blood or is sticky in texture.

  • Mammary duct ectasia - This is the second most common cause of abnormal nipple discharge. It occurs in women who are approaching menopause. This condition results in inflammation and possible blockage of ducts located underneath the nipple. When this occurs, an infection that results in thick, greenish nipple discharge may develop.

  • Fibrocystic breast changes - The presence or development of fibrous tissue and cysts. It may cause lumps or thickening in your breast tissue. In addition to causing pain and itching, fibrocystic breast changes can at times cause the secretion of clear, white, yellow, or green nipple discharge. However, they don’t always indicate cancer.

  • Galactorrhea - This is a condition in which a woman's breast secretes milk or a milky nipple discharge even though they are not breastfeeding. Galactorrhea is not a disease and has many possible causes. These include: Hypothyroidism, pituitary gland tumours, certain medications, including some hormones and psychotropic drugs, some herbs, such as anise and fennel and Illegal drugs, including marijuana

When is the nipple discharge indicative of breast cancer?

The likelihood of breast cancer is greater if your nipple discharge is only on one breast accompanied by a lump or mass within the breast, or if you have had an abnormal mammogram. One form of breast cancer that may cause breast discharge is intraductal carcinoma. An early form of breast cancer that starts in the milk ducts. Another rare form of breast cancer that may result in nipple discharge is Paget's disease. This condition develops in the ducts of the breast and then moves to the nipple. Discharge is rarely due to cancer, however, it’s still a good idea to get any breast discharge checked out, especially if it’s a new symptom for you.


When should I see a doctor?

Since it could be a sign of breast cancer, it’s worth having a doctor check it out, especially if:

  • you have a lump in your breast

  • only one breast is affected

  • the discharge doesn’t stop

  • the discharge is bloody

  • you have nipple or skin changes, such as crusting or colour change

  • you have pain in your breast or other symptoms of breast cancer


In summary

As scary as nipple discharge might be, it’s not always a cause for alarm. There is normal and abnormal discharge. One of the best ways to identify normal discharge is if it only occurs on one breast and is accompanied by other symptoms. The best thing you could do is to see a doctor as soon as you notice discharge of any colour especially if it is the first time. If it’s abnormal, keep in mind that most minor conditions can be treated.


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