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Hyperprolactinemia is commonly found in both female and male patients with abnormal sexual and/or reproductive function or with galactorrhea. If serum prolactin levels are above 200 Hμ/L, a prolactin-secreting pituitary adenoma (prolactinoma) is the underlying cause, but if levels are lower, differential diagnoses include the intake of various drugs, compression of the pituitary stalk by other pathology, hypothyroidism, renal failure, cirrhosis, chest wall lesions, or idiopathic hyperprolactinemia. When a pituitary tumor is present, patients often have pressure symptoms in addition to endocrine dysfunction, such as headaches, visual field defects, or cranial nerve deficits.
The large majority of patients with prolactinomas, both micro-and macroprolactinomas, can be successfully treated with dopaminergic drugs as first-line treatment, with normalization of prolactin secretion and gonadal function, and with significant tumor shrinkage in a high percentage of cases. Surgical resection of the prolactinoma is the option for patients who may refuse or do not respond to long-term pharmacological therapy. Radiotherapy and/or estrogens are also reasonable choices if surgery fails. In patients with asymptomatic microprolactinoma no treatment needs to be given and a regular follow-up with serial prolactin measurements and pituitary imaging should be organized.
Currently, the most commonly used dopamine agonists are bromocriptine, pergolide, quinagolide and cabergoline. When comparing the plasma half-life, efficacy and tolerability of these drugs, cabergoline seems to have the most favorable profile, followed by quinagolide. If prolactin levels are well controlled with dopamine agonist therapy, gradual tapering of the dose to the lowest effective amount is recommended, and in a number of cases medication can be stopped after several years.
Evidence to date suggests that cabergoline and quinagolide appear to have a good safety profile for women who wish to conceive, but hard evidence proving that dopamine agonists do not provoke congenital malformations when taken during early pregnancy is currently only available for bromocriptine. Once pregnant, dopamine agonist therapy should be immediately stopped, unless growth of a macroprolactinoma is likely or pressure symptoms occur.
At our institution patients with symptomatic prolactinomas, both micro- and macroadenomas, are treated with cabergoline as the first-line aproach. In the small group of patients who do not respond to this treatment, or who refuse long-term therapy, surgery is offered. Radiotherapy is given if both pharmacologic therapy and surgery fail.
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