Etiological diagnosis of hyperprolactinemia

Ann Endocrinol (Paris). 2007 Jun;68(2-3):98-105. doi: 10.1016/j.ando.2007.03.013. Epub 2007 May 23.


There are numerous etiologies of hyperprolactinemia, a common reason for consultation. Diagnostic measures must be capable of identifying the tumors, the most frequent of which are prolactin adenomas. Hypothalamic-pituitary MRI is the reference morphological examination. In clinical practice, it is usually performed very early, following the discovery of increased plasma concentrations of PRL. This approach is warranted for marked increase in PRL in the absence of drugs with hyperprolactinemic effects (>10 x upper limit of normal) since a diagnosis of PRL adenoma is extremely likely under such circumstances. When hyperprolactinemia is moderate, which is the most common finding in practice, all etiologies are possible in theory and it is important to follow a rational diagnostic plan (history-taking to identify use of any drugs with hyperprolactinemic effects paying attention to renal and hepatic history, investigation for endocrine diseases occasionally associated with hyperprolactinemia such as hypothyroidism or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), confirmation of hyperprolactinemia by a second assay when the initial level is less than five times the upper normal limit, pregnancy testing for women of childbearing age) in order to rule out all non-tumoral causes of hyperprolactinemia before proceeding with imaging. Absence of any consequences of hyperprolactinemia on gonadic function or the existence of a concomitant disease that could account for the clinical signs, demonstration of wide variations in PRL from one assay to another in a single patient could prompt screening for macroprolactinemia before MRI is ordered. Macroprolactinoma could also occur in the case of normal or doubtful MRI or discrepancy in response to medical or surgical treatment. T1- and T2-weighted coronal sections (with or without T1 after gadolinium injection) are generally sufficient for diagnosis of microprolactinoma. Dynamic tests may be useful if MRI is normal or unclear. Gadolinium injection with sagittal and axial sections is essential for examination of large lesions. In this case, when the increase of PRL is moderate (<150 mg/ml), a non-lactotropic lesion may be suspected without misdiagnosing a hook effect. Careful analysis of the images allows differentiation between tumoral lesions and pituitary hyperplasia.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antipsychotic Agents / adverse effects
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hyperprolactinemia / blood
  • Hyperprolactinemia / diagnosis*
  • Hyperprolactinemia / epidemiology*
  • Hyperprolactinemia / etiology*
  • Hyperprolactinemia / pathology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Pituitary Gland / pathology
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome / complications
  • Prolactin / blood


  • Antipsychotic Agents
  • Prolactin