There is a growing awareness of the importance of self-breast examination. A lot of women are learning to check for irregularities in their breasts from time to time, so they can take need action at the early stage of any change they find. However, while we focus mostly on looking out for lumps as they can be a sign of breast cancer, there are a few other things that we might notice, and one of those things is nipple discharge.
Specifically, we are looking at lactation in women who are neither pregnant nor breastfeeding.
What is lactation?
Lactation as we know it is the process of producing breast milk. It is common knowledge that women who are pregnant or recently put to bed lactate. Once a lady gives birth or gets pregnant, the hormones send signals to the mammary gland to start making milk that the baby will be fed with. However, for young women who have never been pregnant, babies, and even men to lactate sounds very strange, but it is possible. This production of milk by the mammary gland of non-mothers is called galactorrhea.
Galactorrhea is not an uncommon occurrence. In fact, around 20 to 25% of young ladies experience galactorrhea at least once in their lifetime.
What are the symptoms of galactorrhea?
The most common and obvious symptom of galactorrhea is the production of milk by either one or both breasts. Another sign is random leaking of fluid from the breasts, acne, irregular or missed period, nausea, abnormal growth of hair, vision problems, enlargement of the breast tissues, headache, and also a reduction or loss of sex drive.
Possible causes of galactorrhea
Lactation, when you aren’t pregnant, can be caused by different factors and in some cases; it is difficult to identify the cause. The reason for milk production by the mammary glands in cases of galactorrhea can range from medication side effect to hormonal imbalance and some other medical conditions.
The most common reason for breast milk production is an increase in the hormone called prolactin that is produced in the brain. The elevation of the prolactin hormone can be caused by many factors including overstimulation of the nipples, medications, a tumour, an underlying medical issue.
Medications that can cause galactorrhea
The following drugs can cause you to lactate: antidepressants, birth control pills, antipsychotics, heartburn medications, medications that contain hormones, blood pressure medications, and also some kinds of painkillers.
Medical conditions that can cause galactorrhea
Medical conditions such as high levels of estrogen in newborn babies, tumour or disease of the hypothalamus, thyroid issues, chronic stress, any damage or trauma to the breast tissues, and liver or kidney diseases can cause the production of milk by the mammary gland.
Hard drug use
The frequent use of hard drugs such as marijuana, opiates, and cocaine, can cause lactation without pregnancy. Thus, if you notice any discharge of milk from your breast when you are not pregnant, do not hesitate to mention drug use to your doctor if you have been using any of the above mentioned. This will help your doctor give proper diagnosis and treatment.
Breast or nipple stimulation
As funny as this may come off, for some individuals, frequent breast stimulation could lead to lactation. This stimulation can be as a result of frequent self-breast-examination or even stimulation during sexual activities. Also, putting on clothes that rub on the nipples regularly can cause galactorrhea. It is also possible for women who are adopting a baby and would love to breastfeed to stimulate their breasts for lactation by increasing their prolactin levels through pumping.
Diagnosis for galactorrhea
The treatment for lactation without pregnancy is determined by the underlying cause. Your doctor will do some tests and also ask about family history to help him discover the cause of your galactorrhea. The doctor will also do a physical breast examination and possibly take samples of the discharge for lab testing.
Other tests your doctor might want to run to help him, or she give an accurate diagnosis of your condition may include:
pregnancy test to help dismiss the possibility of pregnancy, blood work to help check the level of your hormones, an ultrasound or mammogram to check for changes in your breast tissues, and an MRI to monitor the brain for issues with the pituitary gland or tumours.
Treatment for lactation in the absence of pregnancy
When your doctor has been able to identify the cause of your lactation, they will recommend suitable treatments for you. However, there are some easy things you can do on your own, such as reducing the level of nipple stimulation when you are having sex and avoiding tight clothing that will rub on your nipples.
Other treatment methods requires doctors supervision such as taking additional medications to regulate your hormones, or switching from one kind of antidepressant to another. If the use of drugs such as cocaine, opiate, and marijuana is discovered to be the cause of your lactation, cutting down on their use can be a great way to treat yourself. However, it could take a few months after you cut down or stop use for the lactation to stop completely.
If the cause of your galactorrhea is an issue with the pituitary gland or a tumour, your medical practitioner will have to run more tests, and you may require surgery. Also, there are medications that can be used to reduce high levels of prolactin and your doctor might prescribe one for you. Drugs such as Bromocriptine can help lower high prolactin levels in the blood and treat the lactation.
Herbs classified as adaptogen are good at nourishing the endocrine system, and that can help reduce prolactin levels. To minimise prolactin levels at home, you can try using the herbs listed below:
- (Withania somnifera) Ashwagandha
- (Polygonum multiflorum) FO-TI
- (Eleutherococcus senticosus) Eleuthero
- (Schizandra chinesis) Schizandra
- (Panax quinquefolius) American ginseng
- (Glycyrrhiza spp) Liquorice
- (Centella Asiatica) Gotu cola
Stress management is also a great way to reduce prolactin levels. Find activities that help you to relax and respond to stress differently. There is a possibility of an increase in prolactin levels to inhibit pregnancy, but that doesn’t apply to every woman. In a different article, we will be treating hyperprolactinemia as a topic, and we will explore the causes, symptoms, and all that women and men inclusive need to be aware of when it comes to the subject.