Prolactin is a hormone produced from the pituitary gland. It helps stimulate and maintain breast milk production. Hyperprolactinemia describes an excess of this hormone in a person’s body.
It’s normal to have this condition during pregnancy or when producing milk for breastfeeding.
Certain conditions or use of specific medications, however, can cause hyperprolactinemia in anyone. The causes and effects of high prolactin levels vary depending on a person’s sex.
Read on to learn about the causes, symptoms, and treatment of hyperprolactinemia.
An increased level of prolactin may be caused by a variety of secondary conditions. Most often, hyperprolactinemia is caused by pregnancy — which is normal.
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Other causes of hyperprolactinemia include:
- acid H2 blockers, such as cimetidine (Tagamet)
- antihypertensive medications, such as verapamil (Calan, Isoptin, and Verelan)
- antidepressant drugs such as desipramine (Norpramin) and clomipramine (Anafranil)
- cirrhosis, or severe scarring of the liver
- Cushing syndrome, which can result from high levels of the hormone cortisol
- infection, tumor, or trauma of the hypothalamus
- anti-nausea medication such as metoclopramide (Primperan, Reglan)
Symptoms of hyperprolactinemia can differ in men and women.
Since prolactin levels affect milk production and menstrual cycles, it can be difficult to detect in men. If a man is experiencing erectile dysfunction, their doctor may recommend a blood test to look for excess prolactin.
Symptoms in females:
- irregular periods
- change in menstrual flow
- pause in menstrual cycle
- loss of libido
- lactation (galactorrhea)
- pain in breasts
- vaginal dryness
Symptoms in males:
- abnormal breast growth (gynecomastia)
- erectile dysfunction
- loss of sexual desire
- vision change
To diagnose hyperprolactinemia, a doctor performs a blood test to check prolactin levels.
If prolactin levels are high, the doctor will test for other conditions. If they suspect a tumor, they may order an MRI scan to try to determine if a pituitary tumor is present.
Treatment of hyperprolactinemia is mostly focused on returning prolactin levels to normal. In the case of a tumor, surgery may be needed to remove the prolactinoma, but the condition can often be managed with medication.
Treatment may involve:
- synthetic thyroid hormones
- change of medication
- medication to reduce prolactin, such as bromocriptine (Parlodel, Cycloset) or cabergoline
Typically, hyperprolactinemia is treatable. Treatment will depend on what’s causing excess prolactin secretion. If you have a tumor, you may need surgery to remove the tumor and return your pituitary gland to normal.
If you’re experiencing irregular lactation, erectile dysfunction, or loss of sexual desire, notify your doctor of your symptoms so they can perform the necessary tests to determine the cause.