Prolactin is sometimes referred to as the ‘milk hormone’ because it’s primarily associated with the important role it plays in lactation. However, what many of us don’t realize is that prolactin plays a crucial role in hundreds of functions in the body such as reproduction, ovulation, and the immune system which is why if your prolactin levels shift, it can have an effect on sex drive, ovulation and your menstrual cycle. And while low levels of prolactin are not typically cause for concern, high levels of prolactin may indicate an underlying issue.
Prolactinoma is a noncancerous or benign tumor of the pituitary gland that produces the hormone prolactin and can cause the pituitary to produce too much of the hormone. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), these small tumors are pretty common; making up around 40% of all pituitary tumors - it’s important to note that these tumors aren’t life-threatening and can be treated .
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What causes high prolactin levels in women?
The cause of the prolactinoma tumor isn’t currently known, however, Mayo Clinic notes that there are other causes of the overproduction of prolactin including pregnancy, breastfeeding, or injury to the chest area . Other factors that can cause prolactin levels to rise include:
- Physical stress
- Epileptic seizures
- Sexual intercourse
The above factors usually cause only a small and temporary rise in levels of prolactin. If you are curious about your levels, you can find out more through a prolactin test with your doctor or from home.
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What causes high prolactin levels in women who aren’t pregnant?
As prolactin is known to cause the breasts to grow and produce milk during pregnancy and the time after, it’s typical for levels to be high for women who are pregnant or who have recently given birth.
Saying that there are other reasons behind excess prolactin in the blood, these include:
- Medications that affect the production of dopamine in the brain can have an effect on prolactin production. These include high blood pressure medicines or pain relievers that contain opioids.
- Conditions and illnesses such as hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), kidney disease, or shingles.
The cause of high levels of prolactin isn’t always known which is why it’s important to speak with a professional if you have any questions about your levels.
What are the symptoms of high prolactin?
When prolactin levels shift, you might not notice any obvious signs or symptoms at first. Still, elevated prolactin levels can effect your menstrual periods and cause a loss of libido; other common symptoms include:
- Discharge from the breasts (in women who aren’t pregnant or breast feeding)
- Pain during intercourse
- Excess body hair
If you are experiencing symptoms of high prolactin or prolactinoma, your doctor may recommend you take a prolactin blood test which measures the amount of prolactin in the blood.
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What is the normal range of prolactin in females?
Women who aren’t expecting will typically only have small amounts of prolactin in the blood and it’s common for levels to vary and shift over a 24 hour period; rising during sleep and peaking in the early morning .
Normal values of prolactin in women who are not pregnant would be less than 25 ng/mL and in pregnant women - 80 to 400 ng/mL. It’s important to speak with your healthcare provider about your results as ‘normal’ levels can differ based on a number of different factors such as your general health history.
What level of prolactin is too high?
If prolactin levels are higher than the ranges shown above, your doctor may conduct further testing. As high levels are normal during pregnancy and after childbirth, if you are of childbearing age, the doctor may also suggest a pregnancy test.
Dependent on the cause, treatment can involve medication or surgery.
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One of the most reliable ways to know more about your hormonal health is with a lab test; this can be taken with your doctor or if you would prefer, you can take it from home with LetsGetChecked.
LetsGetChecked’s at-home Female Hormone Test provides a broad picture of your hormonal health and gives you insights into crucial hormones such as Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH), Luteinizing Hormone (LH), Oestradiol and Prolactin. Online results will be available within 2-5 days and our dedicated clinical team will be available throughout the process to answer any questions you may have.
You should consider taking the test if:
- You are curious about your fertility status
- You are looking to start a family
- You want to know more about your hormonal health