A certain type of tumor in the pituitary gland can cause nipple discharge by increasing the secretion of prolactin, a hormone.
When prolactin production is raised, this can result in the discharge of breast milk (galactorrhea) in a non-pregnant woman who’s had no recent pregnancy, or who’s never even been pregnant for that matter.
“A prolactinoma is a tumor of the pituitary gland, a gland that secretes many hormones, that lies at the base of the brain,” says Karen Patrusky, a board certified OBGYN and F.A.C.O.G. in private practice for 20+ years.
“When this gland overproduces the hormone prolactin, a variety of symptoms can be noted.
“Prolactin is the hormone that impacts the mammary tissue, and so in higher than normal amounts can stimulate nipple discharge.”
Prolactinoma Symptoms in Premenopausal Women
• “The increase in prolactin can also cause menstrual irregularities, as the prolactin can impact the production of other hormones,” says Dr. Petrusky.
• “If the adenoma is large it can cause headaches.” This is rare simply because this pituitary tumor is often diagnosed and thus treated early due to the other very noticeable symptoms.
• Reduced libido
Postmenopausal Women, and Men, Can Also Be Affected
Since postmenopausal women no longer menstruate, and since a reduced libido may be attributed to age, a prolactinoma in a postmenopausal women may go undiagnosed and cause serious symptoms. Same for men.
• Loss of peripheral (outer) vision
• Blurry vision
• Dimness of colors
• More complete vision loss
• Low testosterone problems in men
• Appetite loss
• Weight loss or gain
• Joint pain
• Reduced mental function
“If your symptoms suggest a prolactinoma, then this hormone level can be checked with a blood test, and if elevated, an MRI will confirm the diagnosis,” says Dr. Patrusky.
“The majority of these tumors can safely be treated with medication which will shrink the tumor and reduce the secretion of the excess prolactin.”
Prolactinomas are benign.