High levels of the hormone prolactin in your blood, a condition known as hyperprolactinemia, may cause no symptoms. However, hyperprolactinemia can cause mild, moderate and even distressing manifestations that may differ among men, women and children with the disorder. If your doctor suspects that you have high levels of prolactin, he will order a simple blood test to confirm the diagnosis, at which time he will also discuss potential causes of and treatments for the hormonal imbalance.
High Prolactin Levels in Women
If you are a woman, a prolactin level high enough to interfere with normal function of the ovaries will produce symptoms. These symptoms include abnormal menstrual cycles and disappearance of the menstrual cycle altogether, which can result in an inability to become pregnant when desired. You may notice abnormal and increased hair growth on your body and face. You may also experience symptoms of menopause, including abnormal vaginal dryness that interferes with intercourse, as well as a loss of interest in sex. You may experience milky discharge from your nipples similar to that of a woman who is breastfeeding. And over time, hyperprolactinemia may lead to bone weakness known as osteoporosis.
Symptoms of High Prolactin Levels in Men
Believe it or not, if you are a man with hyperprolactinemia, your symptoms will not be all that different from those experienced by a woman. You, too, may notice a lack of interest in sex, as well as an inability to maintain an erection -- the most common symptom of the condition in men. You may also experience infertility issues and breast involvement. Gynaecomastia, or enlargement of the breasts, can occur with hyperprolactinemia, as can the rare symptom of milky discharge from the nipples.
If you have high prolactin levels caused by a tumour on your pituitary gland, which is known as a prolactinoma, you may experience symptoms resulting from pressure at the tumour site. These manifestations are the same for both men and women and include headache and disturbances in vision. Issues with vision result from a prolactinoma that is pressing on the optic nerve. These types of symptoms require urgent attention, as surgery may be necessary to extract the tumour to relieve pressure on surrounding nerves and other tissues within the brain.
If a blood test reveals that you have hyperprolactinemia, your doctor may initially suspect a prolactinoma on your pituitary gland, but there are other causes of the hormonal imbalance. Diseases of the kidney are associated with hyperprolactinemia, as is polycystic ovarian syndrome. Other potential causes of the imbalance include anorexia nervosa and hypothyroidism. Medications known to potentially cause high prolactin levels include amphetamines, certain types of antidepressants, oestrogen replacement therapy and drugs used to treat hypertension. The cause of your hyperprolactinemia will determine your treatment.