Hormones play a key role in the day-to-day activities of the body. The human body produces various hormones that are associated with specific functions. Variations in normal hormone levels may cause a host of symptoms that may range from mild to severe. In case of females, progesterone is one of the vital hormones that is responsible for numerous bodily functions, especially those relating to the reproductive system. Even though it is often referred to as a female hormone, in fact progesterone is produced in both men and women. However, the role of this hormone is much larger in females as compared to that of males. Right from ovulation to fertilization, implantation, and childbirth, progesterone has a very active role. So, variations in normal progesterone levels could be a problem for females, especially during pregnancy.
Progesterone and Pregnancy
Progesterone is a steroid hormone that is mainly produced by the ovaries, after ovulation. If fertilization and pregnancy happen, the placenta will start producing progesterone. Apart from these two locations, this hormone is also produced by adrenal glands, and are also found to be stored in the fat tissues, in small amounts.
The progesterone level will be low during the first half of the menstrual cycle. After ovulation, the granulosa cells in the corpus luteum (ovarian tissue that replaces the follicle after ovulation) produce progesterone in large amounts. This hormone stimulates growth of numerous blood vessels in the endometrium (uterine lining). This action is aimed at making the uterine wall fit for the fertilized embryo to get attached to. Progesterone also stimulates certain glands in the endometrium to secrete a fluid that is meant for nourishing the sperm and the embryo.
In case of fertilization, the embryo will get attached to the endometrium. If there is no fertilization, the level of progesterone drops, after a period of ten days from the date of ovulation. It is from this time, that the uterus prepares itself for menstruation. As the progesterone levels drop, the oxygen supply to the blood vessels (that were nourishing the endometrium) decreases, leading to menstruation. If pregnancy occurs, the corpus luteum supplies the hormone continuously, and the progesterone levels remain the same. As the placenta develops with the completion of the first trimester, it starts producing this hormone. Progesterone is very much necessary for achieving and maintaining pregnancy. So progesterone deficiency during pregnancy may cause certain problems.
Symptoms of Low Progesterone During Pregnancy
In short, progesterone deficiency may result in various problems ranging from infertility to miscarriage. Apart from playing a major role in conception, progesterone maintains the endometrium to retain the pregnancy, prevents contractions of the uterus, strengthens the cervical plug thereby preventing infection, stimulates the breast tissues and milk ducts, and prevents lactation till childbirth. In short, normal progesterone levels during pregnancy is very much necessary.
In normal cases, the level of progesterone will be between 10 to 44 ng/mL (32.6 to 140 nmol/L) during the first trimester; 19.5 to 82.5 ng/mL (62 to 262 nmol/L) during the second trimester; and 65 to 290 ng/mL (206.7 to 728 nmol/L) in the third trimester. It is the drop in progesterone levels during the end of the third trimester, that triggers childbirth. So, progesterone deficiency during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester may result in miscarriage. Even ectopic pregnancies are found to be associated with low progesterone levels.
The following are some of the possible symptoms of low progesterone during pregnancy (to be more precise, the first trimester).
- Spotting and cramps
- Breast tenderness
- Lower back pain
- Dryness of the vagina
- Constant fatigue
- Panic attacks
- Low blood sugar levels
- Weight gain
These symptoms can also be experienced in normal pregnancy, and could be caused by other reasons. So, you have to consult your healthcare provider, and get the progesterone levels checked. If it is low, you may be directed to start progesterone supplements in the form of tablets, injections, or topical cream. Pregnant women with progesterone deficiency must take rest, at least for the first three months, till the placenta develops and starts producing progesterone.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice. Visiting your physician is the safest way to diagnose and treat any health condition.