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Also Known As: PRL Test, PRL, Prolactin Blood Test

What Is A Prolactin Test?

A PRL or prolactin test helps measure prolactin level in your blood serum. Prolactin is one of the most vital hormones made by the pituitary gland (a small gland present at the base of your brain). This particular hormone is responsible for growing breasts and milk production during pregnancy and after childbirth for lactation.  

Usually, prolactin levels are high for pregnant women and new mothers exclusively breastfeeding their infants. The levels are normally low for both men and non-pregnant women. 
However, if prolactin levels exceed the normal range, it often indicates that the patient suffers from a pituitary gland tumor known as a prolactinoma. When it happens, the tumor starts to make your pituitary gland produce excessive prolactin. This extra prolactin can, in turn, cause the production of breast milk in men and women who are neither pregnant nor breastfeeding a child. In women, the production of too much prolactin can become a leading cause of menstrual problems and infertility, i.e., the inability to become pregnant. But, in men, it can cause lower sex drive and even erectile dysfunction (ED) (inability to get or maintain an erection).

Prolactinomas are usually benign and non-cancerous, but they can instantly damage the surrounding glandular tissues if left untreated.

What Is The Test Used For?

A prolactin test's main objective and purpose are to measure the prolactin levels in your blood. This test is crucial for a doctor as it helps diagnose different medical conditions and monitor patients with a known pituitary tumor, i.e., prolactinoma. The test is used for:

  • Diagnostic purposes

Prolactin test can determine the root causes of your signs and symptoms. Your doctor or health care provider can order this test as a part of the diagnostic procedure, especially when you have symptoms suggesting a prolactin level that is higher than the standard range.

  • Monitoring purposes

Here monitoring is about observing a health condition or your response towards the treatment plan over a certain period. Your doctor will use the product and test to monitor your prolactinomas. The test is also performed during treatment to analyze how well the treatment plan is working. However, sometimes your prolactin levels can be tested periodically after the treatment is through to see if the condition has returned.

Why And When Do You Need A Prolactin Test?

A prolactin level test is often performed to:

  • Diagnose prolactinomas, i.e., a type of tumor of the pituitary gland
  • To help find the cause of women's infertility and menstrual irregularities
  • To understand the reasons behind a man's low sex drive and erectile dysfunction

If you are a woman with prolactinoma symptoms, you need to undergo this test as soon as your symptoms start to show. The symptoms here include:

  • Visual impairment
  • Unexplained headaches
  • Pain and discomfort during sex
  • Galactorrhea or lactation outside of nursing or childbirth
  • Abnormal growth of facial and body hair
  • Abnormal and unexplained acne

This test is usually performed on women with prolactinoma to check the tumor's response towards the treatment plan. Moreover, this test is also needed if you show fertility problems or a regular period cycle to rule out other pituitary gland or hypothalamus issues.

As a man, you may need to undergo the test after displaying symptoms related to prolactinoma. These signs include:

  • Visual impairment
  • Unexplained headaches
  • Abnormal lack of facial and body hair
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Fertility problems

Your doctor will recommend you this test to:

  • Investigate erectile dysfunction all testicular dysfunction
  • Rule out your chances of having issues with the hypothalamus or pituitary gland

What Kind Of Sample Is Required For The Test?

During the test, your doctor or health care provider will draw a blood sample from a vein in your arm. First, the area will be cleaned with an antiseptic then an elastic band will be placed around your upper arm. Next, they will insert a needle and collect the blood flow into a test tube or vial attached to the needle. The entire process is very simple and barely takes 5-6 minutes for testing.

Do You Need To Prepare For The Test?

Generally, you don't have to prepare anything special before the test, but for accuracy, it is better to take the test 3-4 hours after waking up in the morning. Your doctor will ask you to fast before measuring their prolactin levels in rare circumstances. For fasting, you will not be allowed to eat or drink for at least 9-12 hours before testing.

Are There Any Risks To This Test?

The prolactin test carries slight complications and risks. After giving the blood sample, you might experience pain or bruise at the puncture site. It is better to keep pressure on the site for a few minutes after removing the needle to deal with bleeding and bruising. Some people feel lightheaded and dizzy after the test, and in rare cases, their vein becomes inflamed and painful due to phlebitis. You can also experience constant bleeding if you have a bleeding disorder. Moreover, things can also become a little complicated if you are on blood-thinning medication like aspirin and warfarin.

What Do The Test Results Mean?

Here it is vital to remember that the prolactin test results are reported in nanograms per liter. Your report will also include the reference range important to interpret the prolactin results. Reference ranges can differ between different laboratories because there is no established standard prolactin level for all individuals.

Your doctor will interpret the prolactin test results based on different factors like your health status and whether you have had prolactin testing in the past or not. It is extremely normal for pregnant and nursing women to show higher prolactin levels. But sometimes, patients are also diagnosed with prolactin deficiency called hypoprolactinemia, in which they are unable to produce breast milk after childbirth.

In non-pregnant people, elevated levels during initial testing can be a sign of hyperprolactinemia. In this condition, the affected individuals have extra prolactin in the blood. It can be caused by different conditions like thyroid problems, kidney failure, and diseases affecting brain regions like the pituitary gland or hypothalamus. Elevated levels can also indicate prolactinoma, i.e., benign pituitary gland tumors. Once prolactinoma is diagnosed, you will need instant treatment to bring the prolactin levels within the standard range.

Related Tests: Blood Urea Nitrogen Test, Thyroid Stimulating Hormone Test, Magnetic Resonance Imaging Test, Electrolytes and Anion Gap.

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