What women need to know about nipple discharge? Find out!

Nipple discharge

Many women will experience some type of nipple discharge at some point in their lives. Secretions may be clear or milky, yellow, green, or red/red-brown and bloody. Although a bloody discharge is of greater concern than other types of discharge, it is more frequently due to benign tumors and infections rather than breast cancer.

One of the more common causes of nipple discharge is mammary duct ectasia. This condition typically affects women in their 40s and 50s. Duct ectasia is a noncancerous condition in which the milk ducts beneath the nipple become dilated and sometimes inflamed due to hormonal changes, inverted nipples, smoking and/or a vitamin A deficiency. Discharge due to duct ectasia is typically green or black and of a thick and sticky consistency. The nipple and the surrounding breast tissue may also be tender and red.

Another benign condition that may cause nipple discharge is an intraductal papilloma. These wart-like growths often involve the large milk ducts close to the nipple and result in a bloody discharge.

Bottom line: If you have nipple discharge and you’re not pregnant or breastfeeding, flag it for your doctor. While breast discharge is more likely to be a sign of an infection, hormonal fluctuations, or other benign health issues, it’s always better to be safe.

Diagnosing and Treating Nipple Discharge

Your health care provider will perform a thorough exam and ask you various questions about your symptoms. Depending on the type of nipple discharge you are experiencing and the presence or absence of other symptoms such as redness or pain, some of your breast fluid may be tested for microscopic blood during your exam.

Treatment for nipple discharge varies depending on the underlying cause. Often, warm compresses and antibiotics are all that is needed. In other cases, an abnormal duct may need to be removed surgically.

Talk to your doctor or call the Comprehensive Breast Health Center if you are experiencing any type of unusual nipple discharge.
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