What Does It Mean To Have High Prolactin?
If you are here reading this blog post, chances are that you are probably processing your high prolactin test results or know someone trying to make sense of it all. We know that you might have many questions about this topic like; what is it? why do I have it or why did I get it? and also how to treat it. Grace Health is here to help answer these questions in a way that’s easy for you to understand. So, let’s get started.
What is Prolactin?
Prolactin (also known as lactotropin) is a hormone that’s mainly responsible for the development of mammary glands within breast tissue, milk production and lactation. It is produced by the pituitary gland in the brain.
So if you’re wondering if it is just for milk production, the answer is NO! It also contributes to several bodily processes and functions for instance the regulation of the menstrual cycle in females and the production of sperm in males.
Prolactin levels are usually low in people assigned male at birth and non-lactating and non-pregnant people. They’re normally elevated in people who are pregnant or breastfeeding. However, while it is expected to increase during pregnancy and breastfeeding, abnormal increases—referred to as hyperprolactinemia can signify that you need to seek a doctor’s attention.
What are the symptoms of high prolactin in females?
Sadly, women are most affected by hyperprolactinemia than men. Studies have shown that 3 out of 5 women with a reproductive disorder will have high prolactin.
Some of the most common symptoms include:
Galactorrhea (the production of breast milk when you are not pregnant or breastfeeding)
Infertility (due to the absence of ovulation)
Hirsutism (excess body and facial hair growth)
What about symptoms in men?
Though it is rare, men can experience high prolactin levels. Symptoms include:
Loss of libido
Infertility (due to decreased sperm production)
Gynecomastia (abnormal breast enlargement)
Galactorrhea (uncommon but possible)
What causes hyperprolactinemia?
Several factors and conditions can cause hyperprolactinemia. When you have high levels, this could be caused by:
Prolactinoma (a benign tumour in your pituitary gland that produces too much prolactin)
Diseases affecting the hypothalamus(the part of the brain that controls the pituitary gland)
Chest injury or irritation (for example, scars, shingles, or even a bra that’s too tight)
Drugs that are used to treat depression, psychosis, and high blood pressure
Anorexia(an eating disorder)
Diagnosing & Testing
If you experience some or all the symptoms it is advisable to seek medical attention and not self-diagnose. There, a medical provider will take a blood sample for a prolactin (PRL) blood test.
Normal results usually look like the following (ng/mL = nanograms per millilitre):
Women who are not pregnant
< 25 ng/mL
Women who are pregnant
34 to 386 ng/mL
< 15 ng/mL
If your prolactin levels are below the normal range, this could mean your pituitary gland isn’t working as it should. That’s known as hypopituitarism. Lower levels of prolactin usually do not need medical treatment. If your results show that you have hyperprolactinemia, the next step will be to determine the cause. This may require additional testing, such as other blood tests and imaging tests.
Guess what? Not all cases of high prolactin levels need to be treated. Treatment will depend on the diagnosis. Most times the goal of treatment is to get prolactin levels back to normal. Your doctor may prescribe medicine to lower prolactin levels. If you have a prolactinoma, the goal is to use medicine to reduce the size of the tumour and lower the amount of prolactin. After successful treatment, your healthcare provider may want you to have regular blood tests to ensure that prolactin levels stay within a normal range.
Higher levels are normal in pregnant people and those who are breastfeeding. On the other hand, for those who are not pregnant or breastfeeding, low levels are considered rare and increased levels are more common. Both circumstances indicate an underlying health condition. High prolactin levels (hyperprolactinemia) can be caused by many different things and the treatment can vary by the underlying cause, but the ultimate goal is to restore prolactin to normal levels. Prolactinoma and hyperprolactinemia are not life-threatening. Infertility caused by high prolactin levels can be reversed once prolactin levels return to normal.
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