What is high or low estrogen levels?
Estrogen is a naturally occurring hormone that your body produces to aid in sexual development and other important body functions. Prior to menopause, women generate estrogen primarily from their ovaries. After that, most of their estrogen comes from fat cells and the adrenal glands found at the top of the kidneys. When estrogen levels get too high or too low, this can negatively affect the body.
Estrogen helps regulate the health of the following areas:
- Urinary tract
- Reproductive system
- Heart and blood vessels
- Hair on the body
- Pelvic muscles
- Mucous membranes
Estrogen plays an essential role in girls when they reach puberty, prompting changes like the growth of pubic hair and the start of menstruation. It also helps control cholesterol in the blood. Three of the most common types of estrogen produced in women include:
Estrone is the main estrogen hormone produced by women after they hit menopause.
Estriol is an estrogen hormone whose levels increase in pregnant women.
Signs and symptoms of high or low estrogen levels
Men also produce estrogen, though at lower levels than women. They too experience adverse health effects when those levels fluctuate. Estradiol is the estrogen hormone typically found in men.
Sometimes the body produces too much or too little estrogen. Men with lower estrogen levels may end up with additional belly fat and a lowered sex drive. Women with low estrogen levels typically have symptoms like:
- Fewer periods
- Periods that completely stop
- Hot flashes
- Dry skin
- Problems sleeping
- Night sweats
- Dryness in the vagina
- Thinning of the vaginal walls
- Low sex drive
- Mood swings
Signs that a woman may have higher levels of estrogen include:
- Weight gain around the hips, waist, and thighs
- Light or heavy bleeding during menstruation
- Worsening symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
- The presence of non-cancerous breast lumps
- Feelings of tiredness
- Lack of desire for sex
Men with higher estrogen levels may experience the following symptoms:
Without treatment, women can experience various complications from low estrogen levels, like:
Estrogen prevents calcium loss, which keeps your bones strong. Without enough estrogen, a woman’s calcium loss often accelerates, leaving her at risk for fracturing the bones in places like the hips, legs, arms, and spine. Women may be more at risk for developing osteoporosis if they have one or more of the following risk factors:
- Consume excessive amounts of alcohol
- Are not active
- Have a thin or petite frame
Estrogen helps protect the heart from disease, potentially by maintaining higher levels of good cholesterol, called high-density lipoprotein (HDL), in your blood. Lower estrogen levels, especially during menopause, can increase your risk of developing heart disease.
Causes of estrogen level fluctuations
The levels of estrogen in women decrease as they approach menopause. Surgery to remove a woman’s ovaries can also lead to low estrogen levels. A woman’s estrogen levels may increase due to medications like birth control. Higher levels of the estrogen estradiol have been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.
Tests for estrogen level changes
Your doctor may recommend taking an estrogen level test to measure the amount of estrogen in your blood or urine. Blood tests are performed by inserting a needle into your vein and taking a sample of blood. With urine tests, doctors ask people to collect urine samples over 24 hours. There are also tests available that measure your estrogen levels using your saliva.
Estrogen tests help to:
- Determine why a girl may be going through early or late puberty
- Figure out why boys have not yet gone through puberty
- Identify the cause of infertility
- Diagnose problems with menstruation
- Evaluate treatments for infertility or menopause
- Look for tumors that are producing estrogen
- Check for specific congenital disabilities
- Monitor high-risk pregnancies
Pregnant women may be asked to take an estrogen test if they:
- Are over the age of 35
- Experience a viral infection
- Are managing diabetes
- Have a family history of children with congenital disabilities
- Tumors on your ovaries, testicles, or adrenal glands
- Early puberty for females
- Late puberty for males
Lower estrogen levels can be a sign that you are dealing with:
Treatments for high or low estrogen levels
Doctors may recommend that women with low estrogen levels start hormone replacement therapy (HRT). It can alleviate some symptoms of menopause and help prevent the development of osteoporosis in women. Your doctor should describe the risks that come with taking HRT. These include the potential of developing breast cancer, heart disease, blood clots, and other health complications.
Specific changes in diet may help lower your estrogen levels. You should also check with your doctor to determine whether the medications you are taking could be contributing to the problem.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Hormone Health Network: “What is Estrogen?”
John Hopkins Medicine: “Estrogen’s Effects on the Female Body.”
MedlinePlus: “Estrogen Levels Test.”
Susan G. Komen: “Blood Estrogen Levels.”