What is progesterone?
Progesterone is a female sex hormone. It is mainly produced in the ovaries after ovulation every month. It is crucial for maintaining pregnancy and the menstrual cycle.
Progesterone helps to regulate your cycle. However, its main task is to prepare your uterus for pregnancy. After each ovulation, progesterone helps thickens the lining of the womb in order to prepare for a fertilized egg. If there is no fertilized egg, the level of progesterone decreases and menstruation begins. When a fertilized egg is implanted in the uterine wall, progesterone maintains the uterine lining during pregnancy.
Progesterone is crucial for breastfeeding and breast development. It complements some effects of estrogen which is another female hormone. It also works with the precursor for adrenal hormones - testosterone. Men produce a small amount of progesterone to help sperm development.
Should I worry about low progesterone?
Progesterone is very important for childbearing years. It may cause some problems in getting or staying pregnant if you have low progesterone levels.
After one of your ovaries has released an egg, the level of progesterone should increase. Progesterone helps to thicken the uterus in anticipation of receiving a fertilized egg. If the womb is not thick enough, the egg will not be planted.
Some of the symptoms of low progesterone levels in women who are not pregnant include:
- Mood swings, including anxiety or depression
- Headache or migraine
- Irregularities in the menstrual cycle
Women who are not pregnant and have low levels of progesterone may experience abnormal bleeding of the uterine. Irregular or missing periods may indicate low progesterone levels and poorly functioning ovaries.
Women who are pregnant still need progesterone to maintain their uterus until the baby is born. Your body will produce more progesterone than usual, which causes some pregnancy symptoms, such as nausea and tender breasts. Your uterus may not be able to carry the baby to term if your levels of progesterone are too low.
Pregnant women with low progesterone levels experience spotting and miscarriage.
A low progesterone level may indicate an ectopic pregnancy. This can lead to miscarriage or death of the fetus.
Without progesterone, estrogen can become the dominant hormone. This can lead to the following symptoms:
- weight gain
- depression, mood swings and a decreased sex drive
- irregular menstrual cycle, heavy bleeding, PMS
- tender breasts, fibrocystic breasts
- problems with the gallbladder
Understanding and testing levels
A progesterone test (PGSN) may help your doctor determine if your levels of progesterone are too low. This is a simple blood test for which no preparation is needed.
The test can show why you have problems with getting pregnant. It can also confirm if you have an ovulation. The PGSN test can be used to monitor the state of high-risk pregnancy or a therapy for hormone replacement. During pregnancy, progesterone levels are usually higher than normal. They are even higher if you are having more than one baby.
Postmenopausal women, children, and men all have a lower progesterone level than women of childbearing age. What counts as a "normal" progesterone level depends on the gender and age of a person. Other factors in women include where you are in your menstrual cycle and whether you’re pregnant. During the menstrual cycle, progesterone levels fluctuate. They reach their peak about seven days before your period. The levels can vary in one single day.
Poor progesterone production is often caused by poorly functioning ovaries. And during menopause, it is natural for progesterone and estrogen levels to go down.
What can I do about low progesterone?
You may not experience low progesterone levels symptoms, and may not need to be treated. However, hormone therapy can be useful especially if you’re trying to have a baby. Hormone therapy increases progesterone levels and can help thicken the lining of the womb. This can improve your chances of a healthy pregnancy.
Abnormal bleeding and menstrual disorders can be improved by hormone therapy. If you experience severe symptoms of menopause, hormone therapy usually consists of a combination of progesterone and estrogen. Women who take estrogen without progesterone have higher chances of developing endometrial cancer.
Treatment options for progesterone supplementation are:
- oral medications like Provera
- creams and gels that can be applied topically or vaginally
- suppositories commonly used to treat low progesterone levels that cause problems with fertility
Hormone therapy (a combination of estrogen and progesterone or only estrogen) can relieve symptoms like:
- vaginal dryness
- night sweats
- hot flashes
- Progesterone improves the mood of some women. Oral progesterone can have a calming effect and make sleeping easier.
Hormone therapy can increase the risk of:
Your doctor will probably advise you not to have a hormone therapy if you have a history of:
- endometrial cancer
- breast cancer
- liver disease
- blood clots
Natural remedies for increasing low levels of progesterone are:
- increase your intake of vitamins C and B, which are necessary for the maintenance of progesterone level
- eat more foods with zinc, like shellfish
- control stress levels as your body releases cortisol instead of progesterone when it's stressed
Progesterone is not usually supplemented in women who experience menopausal symptoms due to hormone imbalance. This is because menopausal symptoms are usually caused by low levels of estrogen.
Hormone replacement carries some risks, so it's important to discuss it with your doctor. There are prescription drugs formulated to look like your naturally occurring hormones to your body. These are sometimes referred to as "bioidentical hormones". While these may sound more favorable, they carry the same risks as other prescriptions.
Low levels of progesterone can cause different problems in both men and women. However, low levels of progesterone can be treated. One long-term solution for some women can be hormone therapy, especially for postmenopausal women.
Talk to your doctor about the best treatment. It may take a few weeks for the results of hormone therapy to become visible. And you can work with your doctor to reassess your treatment plan every year.
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