Nipple discharge: Is it a symptom of infertility in women?
For women who are not breastfeeding, the sight of nipple discharge can be alarming. Breast health is an important indicator of female fertility and they are sensitive to hormonal changes in the body. Their size and shape can change in sync with a woman’s menstrual cycle as well. In fact, noting the reasons for discharge from nipples when a woman is not pregnant, is essential as it may indicate problems with fertility.
There can be many causes of the condition, and some may be minor and others serious. Hence, it’s imperative to know what is normal and what may be a reason for concern.
When to know if there’s a problem?
When breasts are stimulated, a little discharge from the nipples can be normal. In the case of women who are breastfeeding, it may take almost a year for the milk discharge to completely stop. However, if you are not nursing, nipple discharge can be an indicator of hormonal imbalance or a tumor in the pituitary gland.
The colour of the discharge can be clear, yellow, white, or green, But the colour is not an ideal factor to decide whether the discharge is normal or abnormal. One should get tested to find the reason behind it. Meanwhile, bloody discharge is never normal. Other signs of abnormality can include discharge from a single breast, nipple discharge that happens without any touching and stimulation or irritation of the breast.
Nipple discharge and infertility
Nipple discharges, which are caused by hormonal imbalances, have an impact on the woman’s fertility well. Usually, a hormone called prolactin is to be blamed as its role is to stimulate milk production in a woman’s body after delivery.
Women who are not pregnant and are not breastfeeding should have low levels of prolactin. If a non-pregnant woman has high levels of prolactin, it will cause problems in conceiving. When levels of prolactin increase, the condition is called hyperprolactinemia, which can contribute towards fertility issues.
Causes of Hyperprolactinemia
- Cyst in the pituitary gland
- Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
- PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome)
- Certain medications (like anti-depressants, some sedatives, estrogen medications etc)
- Physical stress on the body
Reasons of Hyperprolactinemia causing infertility
High levels of prolactin can interfere with estrogen production, which in turn leads to irregular periods and changes in the ovulation pattern. Depending on how severe the case is, periods may get irregular or in some cases stop entirely, thereby impacting a woman’s ability to get pregnant.
In case of mild hyperprolactinemia, the ovaries can release the egg in time, however, the body may not be able to produce enough levels of the hormone progesterone. This results in shortening of the luteal phase (stage after ovulation and before the period starts). Therefore, even if the egg is fertilised, it may not be able to attach itself to the uterus. It would lead to the woman miscarrying even before she realises that she is pregnant.
When should you go to the doctor?
You should consult a doctor if you notice the below symptoms:
- Leaky nipples (either spontaneous discharge or after squeezing)
- Irregular periods or no periods
Any kind of discharge, when you are not breastfeeding, should be shown to your doctor. Your doctor/fertility specialist will be able to provide the necessary guidance and treatment. A simple blood test will be able to identify the problem, and in most cases, medication is enough to treat the issue. It is always better to be aware, so you can detect the problem in the early stages.