Hyperprolactinemia

Overview

What is hyperprolactinemia?

Hyperprolactinemia is a treatable condition in which you have higher-than-normal levels of prolactin, a hormone, in your blood.

While it isn’t life-threatening, hyperprolactinemia can cause infertility and other issues.

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 also contributes to several bodily processes and functions. Your pituitary gland is mainly responsible for producing and secreting prolactin, but the following body systems and parts are also capable of producing prolactin:

Prolactin levels are normally low in people assigned male at birth (AMAB) and non-lactating and non-pregnant people. They’re normally elevated in people who are pregnant or breastfeeding (chestfeeding).

In general, the normal values for prolactin include:

  • For people assigned male at birth: Less than 20 ng/mL (nanograms per milliliter).
  • For people assigned female at birth who are not pregnant or chestfeeding: less than 25 ng/mL.
  • For people who are pregnant or chestfeeding: 80 to 400 ng/mL.

Who does hyperprolactinemia affect?

Hyperprolactinemia most commonly affects people under the age of 40. People assigned female at birth (AFAB) are more likely to have hyperprolactinemia than people assigned male at birth (AMAB). Hyperprolactinemia is rare in children.

How common is hyperprolactinemia?

Hyperprolactinemia affects less than 1% of the general population. The most common cause of hyperprolactinemia is a prolactinoma, a benign (noncancerous) prolactin-releasing tumor. Prolactinoma rates are about 30 per 100,000 in people assigned female at birth and 10 per 100,000 in people assigned male at birth.

What is the difference between hyperprolactinemia and prolactinoma?

A prolactinoma is a benign (noncancerous) tumor that forms in your pituitary gland and causes excess production of prolactin.

Hyperprolactinemia happens when you have higher-than-normal levels of prolactin in your blood in general. While a prolactinoma can cause hyperprolactinemia, it’s not the sole cause of it. Other situations, such as certain medications, can cause hyperprolactinemia as well.

Symptoms and Causes

What are the signs and symptoms of hyperprolactinemia?

Some people who have hyperprolactinemia have very mild or no symptoms (are asymptomatic).

For anyone, hyperprolactinemia can cause the following symptoms:

  • Infertility.
  • Loss of interest in sex.
  • Low bone mass.
  • Milky discharge from your nipples when not pregnant or chestfeeding (galactorrhea).

For people assigned female at birth (AFAB), symptoms of hyperprolactinemia include:

For people assigned male at birth (AMAB), common symptoms of hyperprolactinemia include:

What causes hyperprolactinemia?

Several factors and conditions can cause hyperprolactinemia, including:

  • Prolactinoma (most common cause).
  • Certain medications.
  • Certain health conditions.
  • Other pituitary gland tumors.

Sometimes, no cause of hyperprolactinemia can be found. This is known as idiopathic hyperprolactinemia. It usually goes away without treatment after several months.

Prolactinomas

A prolactinoma is the most common cause of hyperprolactinemia. A prolactinoma is a benign (noncancerous) tumor that forms in your pituitary gland and causes excess production of prolactin.

In addition to the symptoms of hyperprolactinemia, you may experience the following symptoms if you have a prolactinoma:

Medications

The brain chemical dopamine helps suppress the production of prolactin in your body. Any medication that affects the production or use of dopamine in your body can make your prolactin levels rise.

Medications that can increase prolactin levels in your blood include:

If you have high prolactin levels due to a medication, your levels will usually return to normal three to four days after you stop taking the medication. Never stop taking a prescribed medication unless your healthcare provider has told you to do so.

Health conditions

Health conditions other than a prolactinoma that may increase prolactin levels in your blood include:

Other pituitary gland tumors

Large tumors (other than prolactinomas) located in or near your pituitary gland may cause hyperprolactinemia. This is usually because the tumor prevents dopamine, which suppresses prolactin, from reaching your pituitary gland.

Radiation treatment for tumors on or near your pituitary gland may also cause hyperprolactinemia.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is hyperprolactinemia diagnosed?

If you experience signs and symptoms of hyperprolactinemia, your healthcare provider will likely order a prolactin (PRL) blood test for you.

If your results show that you have hyperprolactinemia, the next step will be to determine the cause. Your provider may have you undergo additional testing, such as other blood tests and imaging tests.

Management and Treatment

How is hyperprolactinemia treated?

The treatment for hyperprolactinemia depends on its cause. Some people who have high prolactin levels but have few or no symptoms don’t need treatment.

Treatment options for prolactinomas (the most common cause of hyperprolactinemia) include:

  • Medication: Medications called dopamine agonists control your prolactin levels and are very effective in shrinking prolactinoma tumors. This is the most common form of treatment for prolactinomas.
  • Surgery: If medication isn’t working to shrink your prolactinoma, you may need to have surgery to remove it.
  • Radiation therapy: This is a rare third option for treating prolactinomas if medications and/or surgery do not work to reduce your prolactin levels.

Hypothyroidism, which can cause hyperprolactinemia, is treated with synthetic thyroid hormone, which should also bring prolactin levels back to normal.

If prescription medications are causing your hyperprolactinemia, your healthcare provider may prescribe you other similar types of medications that don’t increase your prolactin levels or don’t increase them as much.

Prevention

Can I prevent hyperprolactinemia?

Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to prevent hyperprolactinemia.

The only known risk factor for developing a prolactinoma, the most common cause of hyperprolactinemia, is having an inherited (passed through the family) condition called multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN) type 1.

If you have a first-degree relative (sibling or parent) who has this condition, you may want to go through genetic testing to check to see if you have it as well. This may help screen for and catch a prolactinoma in its early phases.

Outlook / Prognosis

What is the outlook (prognosis) for hyperprolactinemia?

The prognosis (outlook) for hyperprolactinemia is generally good. Treatment for prolactinomas, the most common cause of hyperprolactinemia, is usually effective.

Although hyperprolactinemia is not life-threatening, it can cause certain issues such as infertility and irregular periods. Because of this, it’s important to receive treatment if you have hyperprolactinemia.

Living With

What is the outlook (prognosis) for hyperprolactinemia?

The prognosis (outlook) for hyperprolactinemia is generally good. Treatment for prolactinomas, the most common cause of hyperprolactinemia, is usually effective.

Although hyperprolactinemia is not life-threatening, it can cause certain issues such as infertility and irregular periods. Because of this, it’s important to receive treatment if you have hyperprolactinemia.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Hyperprolactinemia can diminish your quality of life and cause infertility. The good news is that it’s highly treatable. If you’re experiencing symptoms of hyperprolactinemia, talk to your healthcare provider. They’re there to help you.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/05/2022.

References

  • Al-Chalabi M, Bass AN, Alsalman I. Physiology, Prolactin. StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island, FL: StatPearls Publishing; 2021. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507829/. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507829/) Accessed 1/5/2022.
  • Hormone Health Network. Hyperprolactinemia. (https://www.hormone.org/diseases-and-conditions/hyperprolactinemia) Accessed 1/5/2022.
  • National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Prolactinoma. (https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/endocrine-diseases/prolactinoma) Accessed 1/5/2022.
  • Thapa S, Bhusal K. Hyperprolactinemia. StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island, FL: StatPearls Publishing; 2021. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537331/. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537331/) Accessed 1/5/2022.

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