What are the possible causes and remedies for nipple discharge?

Symptom Database

Nipple discharge refers to the fluid that comes out of the nipple, which can vary in color, consistency, and quantity. While it is normal for women to experience nipple discharge during pregnancy and breastfeeding, abnormal nipple discharge can be a cause for concern. In this article, we will explore the possible causes and remedies for nipple discharge, as well as the symptoms to watch out for.

Causes of Nipple Discharge

There are several factors that can contribute to nipple discharge, some of which are harmless while others may require medical attention. Here are some common causes:

Hormonal Imbalances

Hormonal imbalances, such as those caused by pregnancy, breastfeeding, or menstrual cycles, can lead to nipple discharge. This type of discharge is usually milky or clear in color and is considered normal.


Infections, such as mastitis or a breast abscess, can cause nipple discharge. These infections are often accompanied by other symptoms like breast pain, redness, and swelling. Seeking medical treatment is essential to address the underlying infection.

Fibrocystic Changes

Fibrocystic changes in the breast can cause nipple discharge. This condition is characterized by the formation of noncancerous lumps in the breast tissue. The discharge may be green or brown in color and is often associated with breast pain and tenderness.

Intraductal Papilloma

Intraductal papilloma is a noncancerous growth that develops in the milk ducts of the breast. It can cause nipple discharge, which may be bloody or clear. While intraductal papillomas are usually harmless, they should be evaluated by a healthcare professional to rule out any underlying issues.

Breast Cancer

In some cases, nipple discharge can be a symptom of breast cancer. While this is rare, it is important to be aware of the possibility. If the discharge is persistent, bloody, or occurs only in one breast, it is crucial to seek medical attention for further evaluation.

Symptoms of Nipple Discharge

Understanding the symptoms associated with nipple discharge can help determine whether it is a cause for concern. Here are some key symptoms to watch out for:

Color and Consistency

The color and consistency of nipple discharge can provide valuable insights into its underlying cause. Normal discharge is usually milky or clear, while abnormal discharge may be bloody, green, or brown. Thick or sticky discharge may also indicate an issue.

Unilateral or Bilateral Discharge

Unilateral discharge, meaning it occurs in only one breast, is more likely to be a cause for concern. Bilateral discharge, occurring in both breasts, is often associated with hormonal imbalances and is less likely to be a sign of a serious condition.

Spontaneous Discharge

If the discharge occurs without any stimulation or squeezing of the nipple, it is considered spontaneous and may require further investigation.

Accompanying Symptoms

Pay attention to any accompanying symptoms, such as breast pain, lumps, redness, or swelling. These symptoms can provide additional clues about the underlying cause of the nipple discharge.

Treatment and Remedies for Nipple Discharge

The treatment for nipple discharge depends on its underlying cause. Here are some possible remedies:

Hormonal Imbalances

If the nipple discharge is due to hormonal imbalances, no treatment may be necessary as it often resolves on its own. However, if the discharge is bothersome or persistent, consulting a healthcare professional is recommended.


Treating infections that cause nipple discharge typically involves antibiotics or other medications prescribed by a healthcare professional. It is important to complete the full course of treatment to ensure the infection is fully resolved.

Fibrocystic Changes

Managing fibrocystic changes may involve lifestyle changes, such as reducing caffeine intake and wearing a supportive bra. Over-the-counter pain relievers can help alleviate breast pain. In some cases, a healthcare professional may recommend hormonal therapy.

Intraductal Papilloma

If an intraductal papilloma is causing nipple discharge, surgical removal of the growth may be necessary. This procedure is typically performed under local anesthesia and is considered safe and effective.

Breast Cancer

If nipple discharge is accompanied by other concerning symptoms or risk factors for breast cancer, further evaluation is necessary. This may involve imaging tests, such as mammography or ultrasound, and a biopsy to determine if cancer is present.


Nipple discharge can have various causes, ranging from hormonal imbalances to more serious conditions like breast cancer. Understanding the symptoms associated with nipple discharge and seeking medical attention when necessary is crucial for early detection and appropriate treatment. Remember, while some causes of nipple discharge are harmless and resolve on their own, it is always better to err on the side of caution and consult a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and guidance.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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