Prolactin Most Popular

The following is a list of what is included in the item above. Click the test(s) below to view what biomarkers are measured along with an explanation of what the biomarker is measuring.

Also known as: PRL


Prolactin is a hormone produced by the anterior portion of the pituitary gland, a grape-sized organ found at the base of the brain. Prolactin secretion is regulated and inhibited by the brain chemical dopamine. Normally present in low amounts in men and non-pregnant women, prolactin's primary role is to promote lactation (breast milk production). Prolactin levels are usually high throughout pregnancy and just after childbirth. During pregnancy, the hormones prolactin, estrogen, and progesterone stimulate breast milk development. Following childbirth, prolactin helps initiate and maintain the breast milk supply. If a woman does not breastfeed, her prolactin level soon drops back to pre-pregnancy levels. If she does nurse, suckling by the infant plays an important role in the release of prolactin. There is a feedback mechanism between how often the baby nurses and the amount of prolactin secreted by the pituitary as well as the amount of milk produced. Another common cause of elevated prolactin levels is a prolactinoma, a prolactin-producing tumor of the pituitary gland. Prolactinomas are the most common type of pituitary tumor and are usually benign. They develop more frequently in women but are also found in men. Problems resulting from them can arise both from the unintended effects of excess prolactin, such as milk production in the non-pregnant woman (and rarely, man) and from the size and location of the tumor. If the anterior pituitary gland and/or the tumor enlarge significantly, it can put pressure on the optic nerve, causing headaches and visual disturbances, and it can interfere with the other hormones that the pituitary gland produces. In women, prolactinomas can cause infertility and irregularities in menstruation; in men, these tumors can cause a gradual loss in sexual function and libido. If left untreated, prolactinomas may eventually damage the tissues around them.
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The Prolactin test contains 1 test with 1 biomarker.

Brief Description: The Prolactin test measures the levels of prolactin, a hormone produced by the pituitary gland, in the blood. Prolactin plays a crucial role in breastfeeding, fertility, and reproductive health in both women and men. The Prolactin test is ordered to assess prolactin levels and help diagnose and monitor conditions related to prolactin dysfunction.

Also Known As: PRL Test, Prolactin Blood test

Collection Method: Blood Draw

Specimen Type: Serum

Test Preparation: No preparation required

When is a Prolactin test ordered?

A Prolactin test may be ordered in several situations to assess prolactin levels:

  1. Evaluation of Menstrual Irregularities or Infertility: When women experience irregular menstrual cycles, absent or abnormal periods, or have difficulty conceiving, a Prolactin test helps evaluate prolactin levels and identify potential causes.

  2. Evaluation of Galactorrhea: Galactorrhea is the spontaneous production of breast milk in individuals who are not breastfeeding. A Prolactin test is ordered to assess prolactin levels and investigate the underlying cause of galactorrhea.

  3. Evaluation of Pituitary Disorders: The Prolactin test aids in diagnosing and monitoring conditions such as pituitary tumors (prolactinomas) that can cause excessive prolactin production.

  4. Evaluation of Male Reproductive Health: In men, a Prolactin test may be ordered to assess prolactin levels and investigate potential causes of sexual dysfunction, infertility, or abnormal breast enlargement (gynecomastia).

What does a Prolactin blood test check for?

The anterior region of the pituitary gland, a grape-sized structure located at the base of the brain, produces prolactin. Prolactin is a hormone that promotes lactation and is found in low concentrations in men and non-pregnant women. This test determines how much prolactin is present in the blood.

Dopamine, a brain neurotransmitter, regulates and inhibits prolactin release. Prolactin levels are typically high throughout pregnancy and shortly after childbirth. The hormones prolactin, estrogen, and progesterone enhance the production of breast milk during pregnancy. Prolactin aids in the initiation and maintenance of breast milk supply after childbirth. If a woman does not breastfeed, her prolactin level quickly returns to pre-pregnancy levels if she does not nurse. Suckling by the infant has a vital function in the release of prolactin if she does nurse. The amount of prolactin emitted by the pituitary, as well as the amount of milk produced, have a feedback system.

A prolactinoma, a pituitary gland tumor that generates excessive prolactin production, is a common cause of an unusually raised prolactin level. The most frequent type of pituitary tumor is prolactinoma, which is usually benign. They are more common in women, but they can also be found in men. The size and location of the tumor, as well as the unintended effects of excess prolactin, such as milk production in a woman who is not pregnant or nursing and, occasionally, in a man, can cause problems.

When the anterior pituitary gland and/or tumor grow large enough, they can put pressure on the optic nerve, causing headaches and visual abnormalities, as well as interfering with the pituitary gland's other hormones. Prolactinomas in women can induce infertility and menstrual abnormalities, while in men, they might cause a gradual loss of sexual function and libido. Prolactinomas can cause damage to the surrounding tissues if they are not treated.

Lab tests often ordered with a Prolactin test:

When a prolactin test is ordered, several other tests may be ordered alongside it to understand the underlying cause of prolactin level abnormalities or to assess the related endocrine function:

  1. Thyroid Function Tests (TSH, Free T3, Free T4):

    • Purpose: To evaluate thyroid gland function, as hypothyroidism can cause increased prolactin levels.
    • Why Is It Ordered: To rule out thyroid disorders as a cause of increased prolactin levels.
  2. Pregnancy Test (hCG - Human Chorionic Gonadotropin):

    • Purpose: To check for pregnancy, as prolactin levels naturally increase during pregnancy.
    • Why Is It Ordered: To determine if pregnancy is the reason for elevated prolactin levels.
  3. Estrogen/ Estradiol Levels:

    • Purpose: Estrogens can affect prolactin levels, and high levels can be associated with various health issues.
    • Why Is It Ordered: To evaluate if abnormal estrogen levels are contributing to the altered prolactin levels, especially in women with irregular menstrual cycles or men with signs of hypogonadism.
  4. Testosterone Levels:

    • Purpose: In men, low testosterone levels can sometimes be related to high prolactin levels.
    • Why Is It Ordered: To assess testicular function in men, especially if symptoms of testosterone deficiency are present.
  5. LH and FSH:

    • Purpose: Luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) are important for reproductive function and are regulated by the pituitary gland.
    • Why Is It Ordered: To evaluate overall pituitary function and to investigate disorders related to the reproductive system.

The selection of these tests depends on the individual’s clinical presentation, medical history, and the suspected cause of the prolactin level abnormality. The results from these tests can help guide further diagnostic investigations or treatment plans.

Conditions where a Prolactin test is recommended:

A Prolactin test is commonly ordered for:

  1. Hyperprolactinemia: Hyperprolactinemia refers to elevated prolactin levels in the blood. It can be caused by conditions such as prolactinomas (pituitary tumors), medication side effects, hypothyroidism, or certain kidney and liver diseases.

  2. Menstrual Irregularities or Infertility: Prolactin imbalances can disrupt the normal menstrual cycle and interfere with ovulation, leading to irregular periods or infertility.

  3. Galactorrhea: Galactorrhea, the spontaneous production of breast milk, can be caused by elevated prolactin levels. A Prolactin test helps identify the underlying cause.

  4. Pituitary Disorders: Prolactinomas are benign tumors of the pituitary gland that cause excessive prolactin production. A Prolactin test is crucial in diagnosing and monitoring these conditions.

How does my healthcare provider use a Prolactin test?

Healthcare providers use the results of a Prolactin test to:

  1. Diagnose and Monitor Prolactin Imbalances: Elevated or low prolactin levels help healthcare providers diagnose hyperprolactinemia or other prolactin-related disorders and monitor the effectiveness of treatment interventions.

  2. Evaluate Reproductive Health: Prolactin imbalances can affect fertility and menstrual regularity. The test results aid healthcare providers in evaluating reproductive health, identifying potential causes of infertility or menstrual abnormalities, and guiding appropriate treatment options.

  3. Monitor Pituitary Tumors: In cases where a prolactinoma or other pituitary tumors are suspected, the Prolactin test helps healthcare providers monitor tumor size and assess treatment response.

By effectively utilizing the results of a Prolactin test, healthcare providers can assess prolactin levels, diagnose and monitor prolactin-related disorders, evaluate reproductive health, and make informed decisions regarding patient care and treatment interventions.

What do my prolactin test results mean?

Prolactin levels in the blood of men and nonpregnant women are usually very low. Prolactin levels must be analyzed according to the time of day they are taken. Over the course of a 24-hour period, the levels will rise during sleep and peak in the morning. A person's blood should be drawn 3 to 4 hours after they wake up.

During pregnancy and while the mother is nursing, a high amount of prolactin is typical.

High prolactin levels can also be noticed in the following:

  • Prolactin-producing and -releasing tumors
  • Eating disorders such as  anorexia nervosa
  • Hypothalamic diseases
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • Other tumors and disorders of the pituitary gland

Low levels of prolactin are not normally treated, but they could indicate a general decline in pituitary hormones caused by a pituitary condition such hypopituitarism.

Most Common Questions About the Prolactin test:

Understanding the Prolactin Test

What is the Prolactin test?

The Prolactin test is a blood test that measures the level of prolactin, a hormone produced by the pituitary gland, in the blood.

What does the Prolactin test measure?

The Prolactin test measures the level of prolactin in the blood. Prolactin is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland that plays important roles in reproduction.

Reasons for the Test

Why would a healthcare provider order a Prolactin test?

A Prolactin test may be ordered if a person has symptoms of a prolactinoma (a benign tumor of the pituitary gland) such as unexplained headaches, visual impairment, and irregular menstrual periods in women or impotence in men. It could also be ordered if a woman is having difficulty becoming pregnant or is producing breast milk without being pregnant or nursing.

Can a Prolactin test be used to diagnose infertility?

Yes, high levels of prolactin can interfere with ovulation, leading to infertility. Therefore, a Prolactin test is often part of the evaluation process for infertility.

Understanding Test Results

What do high levels of prolactin in the Prolactin test indicate?

High levels of prolactin, a condition known as hyperprolactinemia, can indicate a prolactinoma or other conditions such as hypothyroidism, kidney disease, or liver disease. Certain medications can also cause high prolactin levels.

What do low levels of prolactin in the Prolactin test mean?

Low levels of prolactin are usually not of concern, as they're normal for people who aren't pregnant or nursing. However, if low prolactin levels are found alongside symptoms like headache or visual changes, it could indicate a pituitary problem.

Test Results and Other Medical Conditions

What is the connection between prolactin and thyroid function?

Thyroid-releasing hormone from the hypothalamus stimulates the pituitary gland to produce prolactin. If someone has hypothyroidism, this can lead to increased release of thyroid-releasing hormone, which in turn can increase prolactin levels.

Can high prolactin levels affect pregnancy and breastfeeding? 

High prolactin levels can interfere with the function of the ovaries in women, potentially leading to difficulties in becoming pregnant. Once a woman is pregnant, prolactin levels naturally rise and prepare the breasts for milk production. If prolactin levels are too high when a woman is not pregnant, it can lead to inappropriate milk production (galactorrhea).

Can men have high prolactin levels and what does it indicate?

Yes, men can also have high prolactin levels. This can lead to symptoms such as erectile dysfunction, decreased libido, and infertility. High prolactin levels in men can also be a sign of a pituitary tumor.

Follow-up and Treatment

What happens after a diagnosis of high prolactin levels?

The treatment depends on the cause of the elevated prolactin levels. For prolactinomas, medications are typically the first line of treatment. In some cases, surgery or radiation therapy may be needed. For high prolactin levels caused by medications, a healthcare provider may change the medication or adjust the dosage.

What medications can affect prolactin levels?

Certain medicationslike antipsychotics, antidepressants, and opiates can increase prolactin levels. Conversely, dopamine agonists like bromocriptine or cabergoline are often used to treat high prolactin levels.

Preparation for the Test

Are there any specific preparations needed for the Prolactin test?

Certain factors can cause temporary spikes in prolactin levels, so your doctor might ask you to avoid eating, drinking, and strenuous activity for up to 12 hours before the test. Certain medications can also affect prolactin levels, so it's important to discuss all medications you're taking with your healthcare provider.

Can stress affect the results of the Prolactin test?

Yes, stress can increase prolactin levels. That's why it's recommended to rest and relax for at least 15 minutes before the blood sample is drawn.

Understanding Prolactinomas

What is a prolactinoma and how is it detected with the Prolactin test?

A prolactinoma is a benign tumor of the pituitary gland that overproduces prolactin. A prolactin test is often used to diagnose this condition—high prolactin levels can suggest the presence of a prolactinoma. If a prolactinoma is suspected, imaging tests like an MRI may be used to confirm the diagnosis.

Are prolactinomas treatable?

Yes, most prolactinomas can be effectively treated with medications. These drugs decrease prolactin production and help shrink the tumor. In rare cases where medication isn't effective or causes severe side effects, surgery may be considered.

Prolactin and Menstrual Cycle

Can the Prolactin test help diagnose menstrual irregularities?

Yes, since high prolactin levels can interfere with the normal regulation of menstrual cycles, the Prolactin test can be used in the diagnostic process if a woman is experiencing irregular or absent menstrual cycles.

How do high prolactin levels affect the menstrual cycle?

High levels of prolactin can interfere with the production and regulation of other hormones, including estrogen and progesterone. This can result in irregular or absent menstrual cycles.

Prolactin and Men

Can high prolactin levels cause symptoms in men?

Yes, high prolactin levels in men can decrease testosterone, leading to symptoms like erectile dysfunction, decreased sex drive, and infertility. It can also cause gynecomastia (enlargement of breast tissue in men).

Is the Prolactin test typically ordered for men?

While it's less common, a Prolactin test can be ordered for men who show symptoms like decreased sex drive, erectile dysfunction, or gynecomastia, especially if a pituitary gland problem is suspected.

Prolactin and Breastfeeding

Why does prolactin increase during breastfeeding?

Prolactin levels increase during breastfeeding because it plays a crucial role in milk production. The sucking action of a baby nursing stimulates the release of prolactin, which in turn signals the body to produce and supply breast milk.

Can a non-pregnant woman have high prolactin levels due to nipple stimulation?

Yes, nipple stimulation (not related to breastfeeding or pregnancy) can cause the pituitary gland to release prolactin, leading to elevated prolactin levels.

Prolactin Test and Other Hormone Tests

What other tests might be ordered along with the Prolactin test?

If a pituitary disorder is suspected, other hormone tests might beordered along with the Prolactin test. These might include tests for hormones such as follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), estrogen in women, testosterone in men, thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), and adrenal corticotropic hormone (ACTH).

Does the Prolactin test indicate menopause?

The Prolactin test alone doesn't indicate menopause. However, if a woman is experiencing symptoms of menopause and her prolactin levels are normal, her doctor might consider menopause as a possible cause of her symptoms.

Other Concerns

Can the Prolactin test be used to monitor treatment for a pituitary tumor?

Yes, the Prolactin test can be used to monitor the effectiveness of treatment for a prolactinoma. If the treatment is working, prolactin levels should decrease.

Can diet and lifestyle affect prolactin levels?

Certain factors can cause temporary spikes in prolactin levels. These include high-stress levels, inadequate sleep, strenuous exercise, and certain types of foods and drugs. However, these factors typically don't cause a sustained increase in prolactin levels. Chronic conditions, such as underactive thyroid or diseases affecting the hypothalamus, can lead to a sustained increase in prolactin levels. It's always recommended to maintain a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle for overall health.

We advise having your results reviewed by a licensed medical healthcare professional for proper interpretation of your results.

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