Hormones are special chemicals that help regulate bodily functions such as hunger, emotions, mood, and reproduction. Although they’re created by the endocrine system, the female hormone progesterone is mostly produced in the ovaries after your monthly ovulation cycle. This female hormone is critical for the menstrual cycle and pregnancy.
It’s also a forerunner for the production of other hormones including the male sex hormone testosterone. A normal level depends on age and gender. Postmenopausal women, men, and children have lower levels than women of child-bearing years.
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When suppressed in men, it causes estrogen dominance and a host of unwanted symptoms. However, progesterone’s main job is to prepare your uterus for pregnancy. This article addresses the symptoms, complications, and treatment for low progesterone in women, commonly known as hormone therapy.
Causes and Symptoms of Low Progesterone
Progesterone not only controls your monthly menstrual cycle, it’s essential for pregnancy because it thickens the uterine wall for carrying a baby. Levels fluctuate during the menstrual cycle with numbers rising during the second half of the month, or about a week before your period is due. Levels can also vary in a single day.
The presence of this hormone keeps the uterine lining thick for the duration of the pregnancy. After birth, it’s a hormone necessary for breastfeeding. When there is no fertilized egg, the levels drop naturally and your period begins. Poorly functioning ovaries can cause lower production of progesterone. A poor diet, stress, and too much body fat are factors known to cause a hormonal imbalance.
The hormone estrogen works together with progesterone, and too much estrogen can cause it to be the dominant hormone. This domination leads to symptoms such as weight gain, mood swings, low libido, migraine headaches, and heavy or irregular menstrual periods.
Complications from Low Progesterone
Progesterone’s presence is critical for women of childbearing age. Before pregnancy, low levels can result in a lower sex drive, irregular periods, severe PMS, and difficulty getting pregnant. Your progesterone levels should rise after an ovary releases an egg in anticipation of a fertilized one. Low levels when women are pregnant can cause spotting, miscarriage, or ectopic pregnancy.
This occurs because the lining of the uterine wall isn’t thick enough to support the implantation of a fertilized egg. A woman may not even be aware that an egg was fertilized. Pregnant women may also experience fatigue, vaginal dryness, prolonged breast tenderness, and low blood sugar. Perimenopausal women may notice irregular or heavy periods, mood swings, depression, and insomnia. Other complications include increased belly fat, brain fog, dry skin, brittle nails, joint pains, and allergy symptoms.
Low Progesterone Treatment and Outlook
If you suspect that your progesterone levels are too low, your physician can help with treatment. As an alternative to your primary physician, a hormone therapy clinic that provides female hormone therapy may also be an option. A blood test called a PSGN will allow your physician to determine levels and why you are having a problem becoming pregnant. It can also determine the time of ovulation.
The test is simple and doesn’t require any preparation. If you are pregnant, the test will reveal higher progesterone levels. If carrying more than one baby, your levels will be even higher. If you’ve been trying unsuccessfully to become pregnant, your physician may recommend hormone replacement therapy as a treatment.
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This type of therapy will increase your progesterone’s levels to help thicken the uterine lining, greatly improving your chance for a healthy, full-term pregnancy. A PGSN test can then be used to monitor hormone replacement therapy or a high-risk pregnancy. Women who aren’t pregnant can benefit from hormone replacement therapy if they are experiencing abnormal bleeding or menstrual irregularities.
The treatment usually involves a combination of progesterone and estrogen. Estrogen alone can increase the risk of developing endometrial cancer. Hormone replacement therapy does come with some risks such as an increase for heart attack, stroke, and blood clots. Your physician will consider your health history before recommending it.