Estrogen is the primary hormone that sets women apart from men. While men have it in small amounts, women have far more. To stay healthy and feeling good, it’s important to have adequate amounts of estrogen. When we’re low in this particular hormone, a host of irritating symptoms typically occurs. Let’s take a look at 10 symptoms of low estrogen and what we can do to treat it.
What does estrogen do?
This hormone is responsible for many bodily functions. It supports regulation of metabolism, insulin sensitivity, glucose metabolism, and even body weight. Estrogen is necessary for sexual development during puberty, breast changes during puberty and pregnancy, cholesterol metabolism, and bone metabolism. It also helps the lining of the uterus grow as needed during menstruation and early stages of pregnancy.
Why do we lose estrogen?
All estrogen is produced within the ovaries. This means that the health of your ovaries is directly linked to estrogen production. During perimenopause, the ovaries make less estrogen than they used to. This decline is a natural part of life. Then when menopause hits, estrogen production stops. However, other factors can impact estrogen production, such as:
- Kidney disease
- Inadequate functioning of the pituitary gland
- Too much exercise
- Ovarian failure and ovarian cysts
- Turner syndrome
10 symptoms of low estrogen
Symptoms of low estrogen range from mild to severe. Take a look at some of the most common symptoms of low estrogen.
1. Breast tenderness
Sore breasts are a telltale sign of low estrogen that’s normal. This is because during the part of your cycle before your period, estrogen levels naturally decrease.
2. Fatigue and sleep issues
Estrogen is intimately linked to serotonin, and serotonin makes melatonin. Melatonin is the primary sleep hormone. This means, if you’ve been sleeping less and feeling fatigued, you could have low estrogen.
3. Irregular menstrual cycles
Irregular cycles also point to low estrogen. This is common during perimenopause.
4. Disappearing menstrual cycles
Estrogen drives your period. If you don’t have enough, your cycle could disappear completely. This is normal during perimenopause, and of course, menopause.
5. Mood swings and depression
Estrogen triggers serotonin production. Serotonin is a feel-good chemical responsible for your good mood. When estrogen is low, so is serotonin. Some studies show just how essential estrogen is for mental health.
Headaches, especially migraines, can be a result of low estrogen. This happens because estrogen impacts brain chemicals responsible for pain.
7. Hot flashes and night sweats
Estrogen affects the hypothalamus, which regulates body temperature. Low estrogen causes hot flashes and night sweats, two annoying symptoms of menopause and perimenopause.
8. Frequent urinary tract infections
Estrogen helps the lining of your urethra do its job. Namely, to keep unhealthy bacteria out. Low estrogen can cause a thinning of this lining, which makes it easier for bacteria to enter. Urinary infections often follow.
9. Bone loss
Another strange thing that happens when estrogen levels are too low is bone deterioration. Your bones need estrogen to maintain strength and density. They can fracture more readily when estrogen is low because this hormone works in tandem with calcium, vitamin D, and various minerals.
10. Vaginal atrophy
Vaginal atrophy is one of the more severe symptoms of low estrogen and also quite common. Also known as atrophic vaginitis, this is the vagina’s slow deterioration that comes with age. This vaginal malady is characterized by a thinner, dryer, and even shrunken vagina. Inflammation often takes over and sex can become painful. You might be experiencing vaginal atrophy if you are a breastfeeding a baby, have entered perimenopause or menopause, have had your ovaries removed, have early onset menopause, and/or are taking medications for uterine fibroids or endometriosis.
In most cases, this condition comes on gradually, over a long period of time. You might not realize it’s happening until years post-menopause. If you have any of the following symptoms, there’s a good chance you have vaginal atrophy:
- You experience pain during sex
- You bleed after sex
- Your vagina is dryer than it should be
- Your vagina is itchier than it should be
- Your vagina burns during urination
- You feel an urgency to go to the bathroom
- You can sense your vaginal canal becoming shorter and tighter
How to treat low estrogen
Hormone replacement therapy
Treatment for low estrogen levels often includes hormone replacement therapy. The goal is to replace estrogen that’s been lost. Treatment can come in many forms, and your OBGYN will help you choose what’s best. Vaginal rings, estrogen creams, vaginal estrogen tablets, and estrogen patches and pills are all possible forms of estrogen therapy treatment for vaginal atrophy and low estrogen.
Contraindications for estrogen therapy include:
- Liver disease
- Breast cancer
- Endometrial cancer
- Blood clots or blood clot history
- Mysterious vaginal bleeding
If you’re not a candidate for estrogen therapy, natural treatments involve using a water soluble lubricant to moisten the vagina and relieve discomfort.
MonaLisa Touch is a minimally invasive laser procedure that’s sometimes used for cases of vaginal atrophy. This mild laser treatment works because it triggers collagen production within the walls of the vagina. Laser treatment also stimulates blood flow and increases lubrication. As a result, the vagina begins to function better. No anesthesia is necessary. Sometimes positive results happen after only one MonaLisa Touch session.
Eat for hormonal health
A healthy diet can speed healing, no matter what ails you. You can eat certain foods to support hormonal health. Always eat as many whole foods as you possibly can and avoid the processed and sugary ones. Organic veggies and fruits, lots of water and herbal teas, and fibrous foods like apples, pears, berries, avocados, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds are all beneficial for your body.
Exercise is key
Many studies point to the positive effects of exercise on estrogen metabolism. We should all keep up a steady exercise routine. But, if you suffer from low estrogen, all the more reason to get that heart rate up and blood pumping!
Remember, there’s no one in the world exactly like you. Which means, what works for one woman won’t always work for another. Bring loads of love and care to yourself, and pay attention to how you feel. Self-compassion goes a long way when you’re dealing with hormonal imbalances. Be open with your doctor and tell them how you feel as you seek treatment.
At OB/GYN Associates of Alabama, we can help you understand menopause, hormone imbalances, and the range of treatment options available. Contact us to request an appointment today.