Nipple discharge

Nipple discharge is when fluid leaks from one or both nipples. It is normal after a woman gives birth because her breasts are making milk for the baby. Nipple discharge may be a concern when it:

  • happens in a woman who is not breastfeeding
  • occurs on its own, or spontaneously, without squeezing the nipple
  • comes out of more than one duct in the breast
  • has blood in it

Nipple discharge is usually due to a benign condition. Discharge from one nipple is more likely to be caused by a problem in that breast. Discharge from both nipples is more likely to be caused by something outside of the breast, such as an endocrine gland problem.  Have your doctor check any nipple discharge.

The discharge can look different depending on what causes it.

  • Clear or bloody discharge, often from one nipple, may be caused by a non-cancerous tumour called intraductal papilloma.
  • Thick or sticky discharge that is green, greenish brown or reddish brown may be caused by a non-cancerous condition called mammary duct ectasia.
  • Yellow and foul-smelling pus may be caused by a breast infection.
  • Milky white discharge from both breasts may be caused by some medicines or endocrine gland problems.

If you have nipple discharge, your doctor may ask about any medications that you are taking. The following tests may be used for diagnosis.

Treatment for nipple discharge will depend on what is causing it. Treatment options may include:

  • medications to treat hormone or endocrine gland problems
  • antibiotics for breast infections, and draining any pus collecting in the breast (abscess)
  • surgery to remove a duct

Expert review and references

  • Collins LC & Schnitt SJ . Pathology of benign breast disorders. Harris JR, Lippman ME, Morrow M, Osborne CK (eds.). Diseases of the Breast. 5th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health; 2014.
  • Da Costa D, Taddese A, Cure ML, et al . Common and unusual diseases of the nipple-areolar complex. Radiographics. Oak Brook, IL: Radiological Society of North America; 2007.
  • Dixon JM and Bundred NJ . Management of disorders of the ductal system and infections. Harris JR, Lippman ME, Morrow M, Osborne CK (eds.). Diseases of the Breast. 5th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health; 2014.
  • Guray M, & Sahin AA . Benign breast diseases: classification, diagnosis, and management. Oncologist. AlphaMed Press; 2006.
  • White CD. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: Nipple Discharge. 2014: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001490.htm.
  • Zervoudis S, Iatrakis G, Economides P, et al . Nipple discharge screening. Women's Health. London, UK: Future Medicine Ltd.; 2010.