Estrogen and progesterone are both hormones that facilitate vital reproductive processes during the reproductive years of a woman's life. These hormones are responsible for bringing about the cyclical changes that occur during the menstrual cycle. It is the decline in the levels of progesterone and estrogen, which is responsible for causing the monthly menstrual bleeding and cramping in women.
Progesterone plays an important role in preparing a woman's body for pregnancy, which is why, it is also referred to as a pregnancy hormone. While mild cramping in early pregnancy is a common phenomenon, a serious progesterone imbalance during the course of pregnancy, can make pregnant women highly susceptible to miscarriage. In this article, we would look into the connection between declining levels of progesterone and cramping.
Link Between Low Progesterone Levels and Cramping
In order to understand why low progesterone levels may cause cramping, you need to understand the role of progesterone in the menstrual cycle. Menstruation is one of the important stages of reproductive life cycle of women. Each menstrual cycle usually lasts anywhere between 28 to 35 days. It is an interplay of female hormones that brings about the cyclical changes that occur during each menstrual cycle.
The pituitary gland produces luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone, which in turn, stimulate the ovaries to produce estrogen and progesterone. Menstrual bleeding occurs during the follicular phase. The monthly bleeding lasts for a period of three to five days. After the menstrual bleeding stops, the levels of estrogen and progesterone increase, thereby causing the endometrium or the uterine lining to thicken. The endometrium continues to thicken during ovulation as well.
If the ovum and sperm fertilize at this time, progesterone levels continue to rise. If egg doesn't get fertilized with ovum, the levels of estrogen as well as progesterone start declining. This is followed by rupturing of the endometrium. As the endometrium starts rupturing, it releases chemicals called prostaglandins. These chemicals cause the muscles of the uterus to contract. The blood supply to the uterine lining is blocked due to the muscle contractions. While the tissues that make up the endometrium die due to lack of blood supply, the contractions facilitate the passage of blood from the uterus.
So, cramps that occur during menstruation are a result of the uterine contractions that take place while the endometrium or the uterine lining is being shed. Since progesterone helps to maintain uterine lining, a decline in the levels of progesterone can lead to rupturing of uterine lining. In case of pregnant women, low progesterone levels could thus, lead to a miscarriage. Progesterone imbalance could even cause irregular menstruation, and thus, affect a woman's ability to conceive or support a pregnancy.
How to Treat a Progesterone Deficiency
Now that you know how a progesterone imbalance or a deficiency can adversely affect the menstrual cycle, let's find out the ways to tackle the problem of low progesterone levels. If tests reveal low progesterone levels, providing progesterone support would certainly help in alleviating the symptoms of a progesterone deficiency. Including foods with natural progesterone to your diet, may also help to some extent. There is a great need to correct the imbalance between estrogen and progesterone. This imbalance could be corrected by using creams, injections or vaginal suppositories.
Estrogen and progesterone levels naturally decline as a woman approaches menopause, which is why, synthetic hormones are often prescribed to alleviate the symptoms that menopausal women exhibit. Women who have suffered from miscarriages or women who are unable to conceive due to a progesterone deficiency, may also be asked to take progesterone supplements. These may however have certain side effects. Women who use vaginal progesterone suppositories or creams often complain about experiencing symptoms such as nausea, bleeding, vaginal irritation or cramps. Women who experience any such side effects, must therefore, report these side effects to the gynecologist.
The perfect balance between estrogen and progesterone is undoubtedly essential for the healthy functioning of the female reproductive system. Low levels of progesterone can induce contractions of the uterine muscles, which in turn, would cause cramping and rupturing of uterine lining. While mild cramping is normal during menstruation, severe cramping must not be ignored. Women, who have been grappling with the problem of irregular menstruation or often suffer from severe cramping during menstruation, must get their progesterone levels tested.