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What is a Prolactinoma?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 30 June 2018
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Sometimes people experience formation of a tumor on their pituitary gland, which located in the brain, and is part of the endocrine system and influential on the body in may ways. There are actually several different kinds of tumors that may affect the pituitary, but when the tumor results in the gland producing extra prolactin, a hormone that is normally associated with breastfeeding, the condition is called prolactinoma. This is fortunately not a cancerous type of tumor and the symptoms from prolactinoma aren't fatal. However, treatment is needed because symptoms can certainly interfere with health and cause some damage to the body.

Root causes of prolactinoma aren’t always known. It does appear that women are more frequently affected by this condition than are men. It also seems to occur must often in adults who are under the age of 40.

Symptoms of prolactinoma might first be dismissed and can differ in expression between women and men because of the different types of hormones they produce in quantity. In men, the most common symptom is erectile dysfunction or failure to have or maintain an erection. This is because testosterone levels are decreased by presence of prolactin.

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In women estrogen levels decline, which lead to abnormal periods, menstruation stopping altogether, low to no interest in sex and/or pain during sex. Some women experience discharge from the breasts, but these symptoms can’t be counted as a sign of a tumor unless a woman is not presently breastfeeding. Another risk is the potential of developing osteoporosis, since lowered estrogen can influence retaining bone density.

Men and women may both experience a few other symptoms and these include headaches or vision problems. The pituitary is almost right behind the eyes, and presence of a tumor there can easily cause vision changes and headaches. Another common symptom for both men and women is inability to conceive. Hormone levels for either a man or woman may be too low to contribute to reproductive health.

If people have these symptoms and suspect prolactinoma, seeing a doctor is highly recommended. Doctors may assess whether the condition exists by measuring hormone levels and by doing scans of the brain to look for a tumor. When the condition is diagnosed, recommendation is typically to approach the matter in two ways. Immediately, medication may be given to reduce prolactin levels, which can help restore more normal testosterone or estrogen function.

It’s also suggested that most people have surgery to remove all or part of the pituitary gland tumor. Sometimes it isn’t possible to get all of the tumor, but it’s unlikely to go away on its own, and these tumors may grow very large. Due to their propensity to increase in size, vision is particularly at risk. Even after surgery, medication follow up to regulate prolactin levels can still be required for some people. Others find prolactin levels return to normal, particularly if they weren’t very high prior to the surgery.

Since tumors sometimes can recur, people usually can expect to have follow-ups after surgery. They typically will see endocrinologists who, among many things, treat disorders of the pituitary gland. Any one who has previously had prolactinoma should not hesitate to tell a doctor prior to follow-up appointments, if symptoms appear to be returning.

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