Mammary Duct Ectasia: What Causes It and How to Treat It

Medically Reviewed By Faith Selchick, DNP, AOCNP
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Mammary duct ectasia (MDE) is the inflammation and thickening of milk ducts in the breasts. The condition is noncancerous and often resolves on its own. Though mammary duct ectasia (MDE) can occur at any age, it’s most common in females nearing menopause. The cause of the inflammation may be unknown or due to a bacterial infection. Symptoms may be similar to breast cancer. However, this condition is noncancerous and does not increase your risk for breast cancer.

Sex and gender exist on a spectrum. This article uses the terms “female” and “male” to refer to the sex assigned at birth. 

Learn more about the difference between sex and gender.

Read on to learn more about mammary duct ectasia, including some home remedies.

What is mammary duct ectasia?

Female in a pink sports bra looking in the mirror
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Mammary duct ectasia occurs when the milk ducts in the breast lose some elasticity and widen. It also leads to the thickening of the milk duct walls and inflammation.

This sometimes causes a blockage in the duct, leading to fluid buildup. It may also affect the nipple and areola. MDE can occur in both breasts or only one.

MDE is most common in females 45 to 55 years old and nearing menopause or after it. On rare occasions, MDE happens at other ages and in males. 

What causes mammary duct ectasia?

Doctors do not know the exact cause of MDE. Some believe it may be due to aging. However, this hypothesis does not explain why it sometimes occurs in children. 

A 2021 study reveals MDE is more common in females with overweight or obesity. Smoking has previously been said to be a risk factor. However, the study reports smoking was not in its finding. Caffeine consumption may be a risk factor, although it’s not clear. 

What are the symptoms of mammary duct ectasia?

People experiencing MDE may have no symptoms. Others may have symptoms that include:

  • intermittent sticky and thick nipple discharge of varying colors, including white, green, and gray
  • pain and tenderness of the nipple and areola
  • redness
  • inverted nipple
  • breast lump

If an infection occurs because of the MDE, you may experience additional symptoms such as:

  • fever
  • a general feeling of being unwell
  • warmth of the breast
  • intense pain

Learn more about what causes nipple discharge.

When should you see a doctor for mammary duct ectasia?

Let your doctor know whether you have changes to your breast tissue, such as:

  • changes in breast, nipple, or areola shape
  • nipple discharge
  • pain and tenderness
  • redness and warmth
  • a breast lump
  • thickening or scaly skin on the breast

Although these symptoms may be harmless and related to MDE, contact a doctor to check for other serious conditions.

MDE is generally not serious and typically goes away on its own. However, these symptoms are similar to breast cancer, which requires quick treatment.

Read more about breast cancer symptoms.

How is mammary duct ectasia diagnosed?

If you have symptoms of MDE, your doctor will ask for specific details about them. They will also inquire about your health history and perform a breast exam.

They may order several tests to determine the source of your symptoms. These may include:

How is mammary duct ectasia treated?

Because the cause of MDE is unknown, treatment focuses on easing symptoms. In mild cases, sometimes reassurance that the symptoms are not breast cancer is all a person needs.  

If you’re experiencing discomfort, your doctor may suggest applying a warm compress to the affected breast several times throughout the day and wearing a supportive bra.

Breast pads can help if you have nipple discharge. Take over-the-counter (OTC) nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain management.

If your doctor suspects an underlying infection, they will prescribe oral antibiotics. If the infection forms an abscess, your doctor may need to drain it.

What are the potential complications of mammary duct ectasia?

People with more severe cases of MDE may experience recurring incidents of the condition. This may lead to scar tissue around the areola. Sometimes, people with recurring attacks require the removal of the affected mammary duct to prevent future recurrences. 

The outlook is generally good. Many times, this condition heals on its own.

What are home remedies for mammary duct ectasia?

Here are some tips to try if you’re experiencing MDE. They may help you feel more comfortable if you’re experiencing pain or tenderness. Tips to ease MDE at home include:  

  • Apply a warm compress to the area of your breast that is sore.
  • Wear a bra that provides good support without constricting your breasts.
  • Sleep on the opposite side of your body from the affected breast.
  • If you have nipple discharge, add a disposable or washable breast pad to your bra.
  • Take OTC pain medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen for pain management.

If you experience any symptoms of MDE, speak with your doctor.


Mammary duct ectasia (MDE) is widening and inflammation of the mammary ducts in the breast. Both males and females can experience the condition at any age. However, MDE is most common in females around 45-55 years of age.

Symptoms of MDE may include tenderness, nipple discharge, and possibly feeling a lump or nodule behind the affected nipple. Contact a doctor if you have these symptoms so they can rule out other severe medical conditions, such as breast cancer.

Most important, though, is that MDE is not severe and usually resolves on its own. Also, the condition does not increase your risk of breast cancer.

If you have MDE, try applying a warm compress to your breast several times throughout the day and wearing a supportive bra.

If you’re experiencing nipple discharge, wear washable or disposable breast pads to prevent seeping through your bra. If your doctor suspects an infection, they may prescribe oral antibiotics

Complications are rare, but if you experience recurrent MDE, your doctor may discuss the possible removal of your affected mammary duct to prevent further issues.

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Medical Reviewer: Faith Selchick, DNP, AOCNP
Last Review Date: 2023 Jan 9
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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  3. Mohammed, A.A., (2018). Mammary duct ectasia in adult females; risk factors for the disease, a case control study.