Prolactin is a hormone that plays an important role in the reproductive systems of both men and women. It helps to regulate the production of other hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone, and it also helps to stimulate milk production in women who are nursing infants.
In some cases, it can be necessary to measure levels of prolactin in the body by testing a blood sample.
When to Consider Testing
Prolactin levels can, in some cases, become abnormally elevated. This is primarily the result of a prolactinoma—a noncancerous tumor on the pituitary gland, which is responsible for producing prolactin and other hormones in the body.
Prolactin tests are generally used to diagnose and monitor prolactinoma. If a doctor suspects that you have a tumor on the pituitary gland, they may order a test to determine your hormone levels and confirm their diagnosis.
In women, a prolactinoma may produce symptoms such as:
● galactorrhea (lactation unrelated to childbirth or nursing)
● pain or discomfort during sex
● unexplained headaches
● visual impairment
● abnormal acne
● abnormal growth of body or facial hair
Prolactin tests may also be recommended if you are experiencing infertility issues or irregular periods.
A prolactinoma may produce similar symptoms in men, with the addition of:
● erectile dysfunction
● reduced sex drive
● fertility problems
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to speak with your doctor and discuss the possibility of having a prolactin test. They can evaluate your situation and help you determine the best path forward.
Is the Test Risky?
Fortunately, measuring prolactin levels is a simple procedure with little risk involved. A doctor will draw a small amount of blood from your arm and send it off for analysis in a laboratory.
The test may require fasting for eight hours beforehand, so your doctor will provide you with instructions on this. Some medications, such as birth control or antidepressants, can interfere with test results, so you should make sure to tell your doctor what medications you are taking before the test.
What Does Testing Reveal?
A prolactin level test will determine whether your hormone levels are normal, high, or low and provide insight into any potential issues at hand.
Lower than normal levels of prolactin are generally not a cause for alarm.
Higher levels of prolactin can be the result of pregnancy or nursing, but they can also indicate a tumor on the pituitary gland. If this is the case, your doctor will likely recommend treatment options such as surgery or medication to help reduce prolactin levels and manage any symptoms you may be experiencing.
High prolactin levels may also be related to other medical issues such as kidney or liver disease, hypothyroidism, or anorexia. Medications and some herbal supplements may also affect results. Even things like stress and exercise can have an impact, so your doctor will take all of these factors into account when evaluating the results.