What Causes High Prolactin?

High levels of prolactin, a hormone produced by the pituitary gland, can be caused by various factors, and the condition is known as hyperprolactinemia. Some common causes of high prolactin levels include:

  • Prolactinoma: The most common cause of hyperprolactinemia is a benign tumor of the pituitary gland known as a prolactinoma. These tumors produce excess prolactin, leading to elevated levels in the bloodstream.
  • Medications: Certain medications, such as antipsychotic drugs, antidepressants, antihypertensive medications, and some opioids, can elevate prolactin levels as a side effect. Medication-induced hyperprolactinemia is often reversible by discontinuing the offending medication or switching to an alternative treatment.
  • Hypothyroidism: An underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) can lead to an increase in prolactin levels. Correcting the thyroid dysfunction typically normalizes prolactin levels.
  • Chronic kidney disease: Kidney dysfunction can interfere with the clearance of prolactin from the body, leading to elevated levels.
  • Pregnancy and breastfeeding: Elevated prolactin levels are normal during pregnancy and breastfeeding to support milk production. However, in some cases, elevated levels may persist for a longer duration.
  • Chest wall or breast stimulation: Frequent stimulation of the breasts or chest wall can lead to transient increases in prolactin levels. This can occur, for example, in people who engage in activities like frequent nipple stimulation.
  • Stress and physical activity: Severe stress or intense physical exercise can temporarily raise prolactin levels. This is typically a short-term response and not a cause for concern.
  • Damage to the pituitary gland: Trauma, surgery, or radiation therapy to the head or pituitary region can damage the pituitary gland and lead to disruptions in hormone regulation, including prolactin production.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): In some cases, women with PCOS may have elevated prolactin levels. The exact cause of this elevation is not fully understood but may be related to hormonal imbalances associated with PCOS.

It’s important to note that certain medical conditions or lifestyle factors can temporarily elevate prolactin levels, and these elevations are often not associated with hyperprolactinemia. To diagnose and address high prolactin levels, healthcare professionals typically conduct blood tests, medical history evaluations, and physical examinations to determine the underlying cause. The appropriate treatment for hyperprolactinemia depends on the specific cause and may involve medication, surgery, or addressing any underlying medical conditions or medications contributing to the elevation.