Irregular periods? No periods at all? Trying to get pregnant with no success? All these are possible symptoms of higher-than-usual levels of the prolactin hormone in the body. Among women in general, elevated prolactin levels are probably a lesser known cause of infertility. If you have been struggling to conceive, it's worth asking your doctor for blood tests to check your prolactin levels - if he or she has not already carried out such tests.
What Is Prolactin?
Prolactin is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland in the brain. This hormone stimulates breast milk production after a women gives birth. Prolactin levels are normally high just after a woman breast feeds her baby. If you are not breast feeding, however, and you are trying to get pregnant, high prolactin levels can make things difficult. But how?
The Fertility Link
There are a number of reasons why prolactin levels can become too high, but when they do, they interfere with the production of other hormones that are essential to the ovulation and conception process.
One cause of elevated prolactin is a non-cancerous tumor on the pituitary gland in the brain. This tumor can send the pituitary gland's hormone-producing function into disarray. You end up with high levels of prolactin, which can cause a decrease in the sex hormone estrogen. Estrogen plays an important role in ovulation, conception and pregnancy. Furthermore, the pituitary gland's production of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) can be affected by a pituitary tumor. These hormones make your ovaries produce eggs, allow the eggs to develop to maturity, and eventually release the mature eggs that are ready to be fertilized. This enables the eggs to meet with sperms cells from your male partner if you have sex.
The result of this hormone imbalance may be problems with your menstrual cycle, namely, irregular periods, or lack of ovulation. Irregular periods can be very inconvenient, but more importantly if you want to get pregnant, they can make it very difficult to know when you are in the fertile phase of your cycle. If ovulation ceases altogether, you will obviously have problems trying to have a baby.
If your doctor suspects that you may have too much prolactin hormone in your body, he will send you for blood tests. If he thinks that the elevated prolactin may be caused by a tumor in the pituitary gland, he will probably recommend a brain scan or test of your vision. (Pituitary tumors may cause disturbances in eye sight.)
Causes Of High Prolactin
Aside from a pituitary tumor, high prolactin levels can be caused by breast feeding, hypothyroidism and certain medications. Any medication that restricts the effect of the brain chemical dopamine can cause abnormalities in prolactin production. This is because dopamine regulates prolactin production by the pituitary gland. These medications include some drugs for high blood pressure, as well as certain tranquilizers and anti-nausea medications. Of course, the type of treatment recommended to control elevated prolactin levels depends on the reason for the elevated prolactin...
Treatment for elevated prolactin focuses first and foremost on reducing the prolactin levels. Treatment for infertility caused by elevated prolactin levels may also involve fertility treatments such as clomid, IUI, IVF, etc. This depends on your personal medical situation, and your fertility doctor will advise you as to what needs to be done in your case.
Elevated prolactin treatments include:
- Changing your drug regime, if you are taking medications that are increasing your prolactin production.
- Taking medications that act like dopamine - namely, they control prolactin production. Bromocriptine is the preferred drug because it's safe to use in pregnancy. These drugs may help to shrink a pituitary tumor, if you have one.
- Surgery, if drug treatment does not succeed in shrinking a pituitary tumor or regulating prolactin production.
If your doctor does find that you have elevated prolactin, remember that the condition is treatable. Pituitary tumors are almost always non-cancerous, even relatively harmless, and are therefore actually a lot less dangerous than you might think when you hear the word "tumor." Avoiding stress and looking after yourself are important elements of any fertility treatment. So listen you doctor, follow his instructions, and try not to worry about things that are out of your control.