Prolactin and Other Pituitary Disorders in Kidney Disease

Wenyu Huang*, Mark E. Molitch

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Summary: Prolactin levels are increased in chronic kidney disease (CKD) as a result of reduced clearance and increased secretion. Hyperprolactinemia manifests as galactorrhea and hypogonadism. Treatment of hyperprolactinemia should focus on improving bothersome galactorrhea or hypogonadism by using dopamine agonists and/or replacement of sex hormone(s). Changes in the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis in CKD are characterized by increases in adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and cortisol levels, largely preserved circadian rhythms of ACTH and cortisol, and a normal response of cortisol to ACTH, metyrapone, and insulin-induced hypoglycemia. However, the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis is less inhibited by 1 mg dexamethasone but retains normal suppression by higher-dose dexamethasone. Diagnosis of adrenal insufficiency in CKD patients, as in normal subjects, usually is made by finding a subnormal cortisol response to ACTH. The mainstay of treatment of adrenal insufficiency is to replace glucocorticoid hormone. Cushing's disease in CKD is difficult to diagnose and relies on the dexamethasone suppression test and the midnight salivary cortisol test because the 24-hour urine free cortisol test is not useful because it is increased already in CKD. Treatment of Cushing's disease involves surgery, complemented by radiation and/or medical therapy if necessary. Growth hormone levels are increased and insulin-like growth factor 1 levels are normal in patients with CKD. In a normal patient with CKD, as in one with acromegaly, there can be a paradoxic increase in growth hormone after an oral glucose load. Therefore, diagnosis of acromegaly in renal insufficiency is challenging. The treatment of choice for acromegaly is surgery, although data for medical treatment for acromegaly in CKD are rare. In patients with renal impairment, arginine vasopressin levels are increased as a result of decreased clearance, and there also is impairment of arginine vasopressin signaling in renal tubules. Diabetes insipidus can be masked in advanced kidney disease until kidney transplantation. Diagnosis of the syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone is similar in mild or moderate kidney disease as in normal subjects, but is challenging in patients with advanced kidney disease owing to the impairment in urine dilution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)156-167
Number of pages12
JournalSeminars in nephrology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Cushing's disease
  • Hyperprolactinemia
  • acromegaly
  • adrenal insufficiency
  • diabetes insipidus
  • syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nephrology


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