The pituitary glands in our body are responsible for the production of the hormone called prolactin. Pituitary gland is a pea sized gland located at the brain’s base and it regulates a lot of vital functions in the body including sexual development, physical growth and metabolism. You may be surprised to know but prolactin may also be present in non- pregnant woman and men, although in little quantities. However, its primary function is to trigger milk production or lactation in women after pregnancy. It is this hormone that maintains a steady supply of milk throughout the time that a woman breastfeeds her child. When a woman gets breast milk test with blood done, it’s essentially the level of this hormone in the blood that is tested.
A woman who breastfeeds her baby is able to produce only that much milk as is demanded by the baby. In other words, the supply of milk depends directly on the demand. When a baby suckles at their mother’s breasts, the levels of prolactin in her blood increases, which in turn increases how much milk she produces. A woman who doesn’t breastfeed her baby after delivery, will have normal prolactin levels immediately after the baby is born. Sometimes, the level of prolactin in the body is elevated for a man as well as a non- pregnant or non- breastfeeding woman. And having such raised levels may be considered normal in some cases. But usually raised levels of prolactin in the blood indicates a disease called prolactinoma. It is a non-cancerous tumour in the pituitary gland that produces excessive prolactin.
When is this test required?
Usually, prolactin tests are done to check if a person has prolactinoma. Vision problems and headaches are the two most common symptoms of prolactinoma. The reason why such issues occur is because the growing tumour might press against the optic nerve. Galactorrhoea is also a symptom of prolactinoma. It is nothing but the production of milk in a woman who is not breastfeeding or pregnant, or in a man.
Prolactin tests are also done on women suffering from irregular periods. Others who might need to get this test done usually have fertility issues, adrenal gland are thyroid gland problems, polycystic ovarian syndrome and anorexia.
When any of these problems arise, a change in the prolactin levels in the blood stream is usually observed. There are also many drugs and medications that might trigger the pituitary gland to produce more prolactin hormone than what is required.
How to prepare for the test?
If you are going to get this test done, it’s important for you to note that you will need no special preparations. However, doctors generally don’t recommend getting this test done during a time of emotional stress, immediately after rigorous exercise or after waking up from sleep. This is because prolactin levels are highest when a person is sleeping. Also, the levels of this hormone in the body fluctuates throughout the day.
How is the procedure undertaken?
Once you reach the clinic, a health professional will clean the particular area of the skin from where they will draw the blood. Once that’s done, they will put an elastic band around your arm so as to cause your veins to become visible due to the applied pressure. Now, a needle is pushed into the swollen vein and the blood is drawn. Once the process is complete, they will remove the band and will cover the pierced are if the skin with a piece of cotton or bandage for the bleeding to stop. The entire process only takes a couple of minutes.
What can you expect during the process?
The blood collection process might be uncomfortable for some, but the best thing is that it only takes a couple of minutes. The push of the needle might feel like a pin prick and there is nothing too painful about the process. The area where the needle is pushed might suffer from some mild bruising, but that goes away in a day or so.
The collected blood sample is processed using a machine. And the results get ready in a day or two.
Although the blood collection procedure is easy and simple, some people may go through certain unpleasant experiences such as feeling lightheaded, or fainting. Some might also witness the accumulation of blood right under the skin which builds a lump or bruise on the skin. Sometimes, more than one puncture may be done on the skin to locate a vein which could be a little painful for some.
For those who go through severe anxiety during bloodwork, it’s important to know that this is a simple procedure that is carried out without the use of advanced or sophisticated tools. For the procedure to happen smoothly, it’s vital that you remain calm and composed.