There are various infertility tests your doctor can order to determine any underlying problems. If you are having difficulties getting pregnant, it could be related to an imbalance in hormone levels. One reproductive hormone connected to infertility is prolactin.
What Is Prolactin?
Prolactin is a stress hormone that is produced by the pituitary gland. Both men and women have prolactin and this hormone is constantly released at various times of the day. Prolactin is the hormone that stimulates the breast to produce milk in pregnant women.
The body increases prolactin levels after an egg has been released. If prolactin levels remain elevated, the follicle stimulating hormone, or FSH, and the luteinizing hormone, or LH, are not released. Prolactin levels remain elevated during pregnancy and breast feeding; this is your body’s natural way of preventing pregnancy while you are nursing an infant.
While prolactin affects the release of several hormones, there are also numerous hormones that affect the body releasing prolactin. These hormones are dopamine, serotonin and thyroid-producing hormones.
Prolactin in Infertility
Prolactin directly affects ovulation and menstrual cycles because it inhibits FSH from being released. Without FSH, the follicles in your ovaries do not know to release an egg.
The Prolactin Hormone Test
A simple blood test is used to measure prolactin levels to help diagnosis hormone issues. The blood test is typically conducted three hours after you wake up, usually between 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. Many clinics will ask you to rest for 30 minutes prior to the exam to avoid a false elevated result due to stress.
Results of Prolactin Test
Normal prolactin levels for non-pregnant women are below 25 mcg/L. Anything above this range could be causing prolactin irregularities and infertility. Low levels of prolactin do not appear to impact fertility.
There are two types of medical irregularities causing by elevated prolactin levels. The first is called Galactorrhea. This is a condition where the female body produces milk despite being pregnant or breast-feeding. Another condition caused by elevated prolactin levels is Hyperprolactinemia. This means that there is too much prolactin in your blood. Symptoms of this include levels above 400 mcg/L, infertility, headaches, irregular menstruation, vision problems and a reduced sex drive.
Causes of Elevated Prolactin Levels
For your doctor to correctly treat your elevated prolactin levels, she needs to determine their cause. One cause for elevated prolactin levels is a tumor on the pituitary gland. These tumors cause the body to continuously secrete prolactin. Other than infertility, the tumors rarely cause other health problems. Other causes for elevated prolactin levels are prescription drugs, such as painkillers, opiates and anti-depressants, thyroid disease, polycystic ovarian syndrome and shingles.
Accuracy of FSH Test Results
Like many other reproductive hormones, prolactin levels can fluctuate due to stress, illness and environment; there is also always the chance of lab error. If your prolactin levels are high, have your blood work retested to reconfirm the diagnosis before proceeding with treatment.
Treatment of Elevated Prolactin Levels
Treatment for high prolactin levels has shown to be very effective. Both cabergoline and bromocriptine have shown to lower levels of prolactin.