Written on November 25, 2023 by Jillian Foglesong Stabile, MD, FAAFP. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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If you’re feeling fatigued, experiencing abnormal periods, or having other symptoms, you may be wondering if your hormone levels could be off. But what are the symptoms of low estrogen and progesterone? And what do these hormones do?
Estrogens are a class of steroid hormones. There are three main types of estrogen in the body: estrone, estradiol, and estriol.
Estrogen has a role in many body systems :
Estrogen also plays a role in brain function, blood sugar levels, muscle mass, circulation, collagen production, and moisture in the skin. In men, estrogen affects the sex drive and the ability to produce sperm and maintain an erection.
Estrogen is primarily made in the ovaries. Small amounts are also present in the adrenal glands and fat cells. During pregnancy, the placenta also produces estrogen. Hormones in the brain called follicle-stimulating hormone, FSH, and luteinizing hormone, LH, help regulate the cycle of estrogen.
Estradiol (E2) is the form of estrogen that is produced during the reproductive years. Estriol (E3) is the form of estrogen predominant during pregnancy. Estrone (E1) is the form of estrogen after menopause.
Many conditions can cause low estrogen.
The most common condition that causes low estrogen is menopause. Menopause marks the end of fertility. It is defined as the absence of periods for at least 12 months without another cause (such as pregnancy or breastfeeding). The hormonal changes associated with menopause can start months or years before the cessation of menses. This is called perimenopause.
LH and FSH are both produced in the pituitary gland. These hormones influence the ovaries and the production of estrogen. Conditions that can affect the pituitary gland can decrease estrogen levels. Some of these conditions include :
Some genetic conditions can cause low estrogen levels. These are typically conditions that cause an abnormality of the X chromosome.
Conditions that cause very low body weight and low body fat percentage can cause low estrogen levels. This makes sense since fat tissues are one source of estrogen. Some of the conditions associated with low body weight and hormone imbalances include eating disorders and excessive exercise.
The symptoms of low estrogen are dependent on the body system affected:
Other symptoms of low estrogen include difficulty getting pregnant, irritability and mood changes, difficulty concentrating, hot flashes, night sweats, dry skin, weight gain, headaches, decreased sex drive, pain with sex, fatigue, and insomnia.
Progesterone is another steroid hormone that plays a role in the reproductive system. Progesterone is derived from cholesterol.
Progesterone has several roles in the body including stabilizing the uterine lining and preparing it to receive a fertilized egg during pregnancy, maintaining the uterus during pregnancy, promoting bone-forming cells, and preventing excessive uterine lining growth and the development of endometrial cancer. While progesterone has many functions in the body, most occur during pregnancy. Progesterone also regulates the menstrual cycle and bleeding during menses, helps with mood, supports thyroid function, and supports lactation.
Progesterone is produced in the adrenal cortex. The adrenal glands are small glands that sit on top of the kidneys. The ovaries and testes also produce progesterone. During pregnancy, progesterone is initially produced by the ovarian corpus luteum and then by the placenta from the second trimester forward.
Low progesterone can be caused by polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and other conditions that cause the ovaries not to release eggs regularly. It can also be caused by conditions that cause increased cortisol, a stress hormone, such as high stress or illness. Hypothyroidism, perimenopause, menopause, too much exercise, eating disorders, very low cholesterol levels, and elevated prolactin (a hormone produced in the brain to support lactation) are all conditions that can lead to low progesterone levels.
Low progesterone can have many symptoms including hot flashes, weight gain, depression, infertility, heavy menses, decreased sex drive, miscarriage, irregular periods, preterm labor, or ectopic pregnancy.
If you have questions or are concerned about your hormone levels, consider lab testing with the at-home Women's Hormone Test to get more information on your hormone levels (you collect your sample at home and mail it to a designated lab for testing). Take control of your health with Everlywell’s variety of health services.