One of the primary female hormones is progesterone. It has a vital role to play in stimulating metabolism and controlling hormonal activity in women. Therefore, low levels of progesterone or a progesterone deficiency, can cause many complications. It plays a huge rule in maintaining a smooth pregnancy. This hormone is produced in a female during ovulation. Let us understand what progesterone is before we learn about the symptoms of its deficiency.
What is Progesterone?
Progesterone is a hormone produced in the ovaries, placenta, and adrenal glands. It plays a vital role in regulating the condition of the endometrium. It is progesterone which prepares the wall of the uterus for the implantation of the fertilized egg, and is responsible for the maintenance of the pregnancy. In case the egg is not fertilized, the ovaries secrete progesterone until a few days before the beginning of the menstrual cycle. Then the levels of progesterone drop significantly, thereby breaking down the uterine wall and inducing menstruation. Therefore, the normal functionality of progesterone is highly crucial for female reproductive system, and otherwise too.
Problems and Symptoms of Low Progesterone
A progesterone deficit is seen not only in women approaching menopause but also in younger women. In younger women, it is known as Premenstrual Syndrome, or PMS. The most common symptoms of progesterone level deficits are:
- Infertility: It is not uncommon to see women suffering from infertility due to low levels of progesterone in the body. In most cases, it is seen that women may not ovulate due to low levels of this hormone.
- Miscarriage: Many cases of miscarriage are brought on by a deficiency of this female hormone. Due to a lack of progesterone, the body is not able to support the pregnancy, thereby resulting in a miscarriage.
- Premenstrual Syndrome: If you experience persistent symptoms such as mood swings, anxiety, stress, etc., which you have not experienced before, it could be a sign of low progesterone.
- Heavy Menstruation: Women with a progesterone deficit, tend to experience heavy bleeding to an extent that they have to change sanitary napkins unusually frequently. They may also experience heavily-clotted bleeding.
- Irregular Menstrual Cycle: Some experience a heavy flow in one month where the next month, they might not menstruate at all. Progesterone deficiency can also cause excessive abnormal menstruation, as in, they tend to menstruate approximately every 20 days instead of the regular 28 days.
- Breast Tenderness: It is not uncommon to see that some women suffer from breast tenderness at different points of time during their menstrual cycle. It is most commonly seen before the onset of one's period cycle. However, it is not always caused due to low levels of progesterone!
- Depression: Deficiency of progesterone can cause depression and can lead to suicidal tendencies.
- Insomnia: Low levels of progesterone can cause insomnia. Sleep apnea may also be observed in this case.
- Fatigue: If you have not made significant changes to your lifestyle and there is no task that causes fatigue, you may feel tired in spite of no drastic change in your daily routine. You must check for any dip in your progesterone levels if you experience unexplained fatigue and lethargy.
- Memory Loss: It has been observed that low levels of progesterone can lead to memory loss.
- Water Retention: It is commonly seen that women with progesterone deficit issues, suffer from water retention, puffiness, or bloating.
- Weight Gain Around the Abdomen: If you notice abnormal weight gain around the abdominal area, it can be due to a deficiency of this hormone.
- Vaginal Dryness: Very often, women in the perimenopausal or menopausal phase experience vaginal dryness due to the deficiency of progesterone. Vaginal dryness also causes painful intercourse and low sex drive.
- Hot Flashes: This is a condition which is commonly seen in women in the menopausal phase. When the levels of progesterone drop down, it is seen that women suffer from hot flashes, in some cases.
- Vulnerability to Infections: Women with low levels of progesterone are known to suffer from recurring ailments including cold, cough, fever, etc. It may be seen that these symptoms are experienced during a particular time, around one's menstrual cycle.
- Other Symptoms: Some of the other symptoms of low progesterone are mood swings, foggy thinking, hair thinning, hair loss, change in appetite, sleep problems, etc. The main cause behind these symptoms is hormonal imbalance―low progesterone and high estrogen.
Causes of Progesterone Deficiency
A few causes are enumerated below.
- Ovarian Cysts: One of the causes of ovarian cysts is low levels of progesterone. It is often interlinked with an irregular menstrual cycle.
- Stress: Studies have shown that many women in America suffer from low levels of progesterone due to the fast-paced and stressful life they lead. Stress is also responsible for irregular ovulation.
- Diet: Women consuming high amounts of non-vegetarian food usually have high levels of estrogen. Animals too are given high levels of estrogen so that they grow big in size. This estrogen finds its way into the human body and causes an imbalance between the levels of progesterone and estrogen.
- Birth Control Pills: There are high levels of prescription hormones in birth control pills. Some birth control pills increase levels of estrogen, thus causing an imbalance leading to progesterone deficiency. On the other hand, there are also contraceptive pills that contain only progesterone. You must consult with your doctor regarding which birth control pill is right for you.
- Hysterectomy: If you have undergone a surgery known as hysterectomy, which is done to remove the uterus, there is a possibility that it may cause an hormonal imbalance in the body, leading to progesterone deficiency.
- Other Reasons: Some of the other reasons are hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, adrenal gland disorders, hormone replacement therapy, etc. In fact, deficiency in progesterone has also been associated with autoimmune disorders such as Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).
It is not advisable to use over-the-counter medicines to correct a hormonal deficiency without prior consultation with a medical practitioner, since they can do more harm than good. Also, it is best to increase progesterone naturally in the body so that one does not suffer from the side effects of artificial supplementation. Note that excessive progesterone may also lead to various side effects including chest pain, swelling, blurred vision, fainting spells, breathing difficulties, and seizures. Self medication may not always be fruitful.
Disclaimer: This HerHaleness article is meant for informational purposes only and should not be considered as a replacement for expert medical advice. It is strictly suggested to visit a trusted healthcare specialist for individual consultation.