Causes of Nipple Discharge

Causes of Nipple Discharge

Nipple discharge is the leakage of fluid from the nipple and can take a variety of forms and be the result of a number of different conditions. Rest assured if you do experience nipple discharge that most times it is the result of benign non-cancerous causes.   

What would make us worry about breast cancer?

  • spontaneous one-sided bloody discharge

  • discharge in a postmenopausal woman

  • discharge in association with a mass

  • discharge in association with changes in the appearance of the nipple 

If you have any of these, make your appointment to be seen today!

Much more common are the benign, non-cancerous conditions that can result with leakage of fluid from one or both nipples. These causes include the following:

  • Pregnancy or recent cessation of breast-feeding

  • Abscess/breast infection: nipple discharge can be caused by bacterial or viral infections of breast tissue; you may have other signs of an infection

  • Excessive breast stimulation – even contact with a bra or shirt can sometimes lead to discharge

  • Hormone imbalance: nipple discharge can be caused by excess hormones, such as estrogen

  • Injury or trauma to the breast

  • Intraductal papilloma: we’ll discuss this benign tumor of the breast in tomorrow’s post as it is a common cause of discharge

  • Mammary duct ectasia: this is where the normal ducts of the breast become enlarged with inflammation sometimes present and resulting in discharge

  • Medication use: nipple discharge can be a side effect of certain medications

  • Prolactinoma: a benign brain tumor that we will discuss in a follow-up post

And remember that sometimes no cause will be found on further work-up. In these cases, the nipple discharge often goes away on its own. Any discharge warrants a visit with your doctor – we hope this week’s discussion will provides you with the knowledge to lessen your anxiety!





Image credit: breast anatmony normal scheme by Patrick J. Lunych via Wikimedia Commons Copyright Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported.

Originally published 1/21/14 on