Estrogen is a sex hormone that is the primary hormone responsible for female sexual characteristics. These characteristics in women include larger breasts, wider hips and more body fat than is typically seen in men. Estrogen is also the hormone that results in less hair and smoother skin in women. Although men also have some estrogen, this hormone is much higher in women. When a woman's estrogen drops, a condition called low estrogen develops.
Signs and symptoms of low estrogen can vary from woman to woman and may depend on how low the estrogen level goes.
Some of the signs and symptoms that you may be suffering from low estrogen include sleep disturbances that can lead to extreme daytime fatigue, inability to focus on tasks, and a sense that you just "don't feel right". These sleep disturbances may result from a combination of heart palpitations, hot flashes, night sweats, and cold chills. You may notice that you are gaining weight -- particularly water weight -- while your eyes, skin and vagina are becoming dryer. You may begin to develop joint pain and headaches. You may be more prone to broken bones as the calcium is pulled out of your bones and your bones become more brittle. Your sex drive may lower as your estrogen level drops. You may begin to develop more vaginal and bladder infections. Any combination of these signs and symptoms of low estrogen can lead to severe depression.
The causes of low estrogen can be as variable as the signs and symptoms. In older women who are approaching menopause, decreasing estrogen levels are common and ultimately result in the cessation of menses. In younger women, low estrogen can result from several physical or behavioral problems including:
If you suspect you have this condition, the first thing to do is see your healthcare provider. A simple blood test can determine if a low estrogen level is causing your symptoms -- or if something else may be the cause. Low estrogen is usually defined as a level below 100pg/ml (picograms per milliliter). There are both medical treatments and home remedies that you can try if you are diagnosed with low estrogen.
After being diagnosed with low estrogen, your healthcare provider will begin searching for the cause of the problem. For an older woman, the issue may not be a problem at all, but may simply be a result of the normal aging process. In a younger woman, your doctor will run additional tests to identify the root cause of the problem. After the underlying cause is identified, that will become the focus of treatment.
When other causes are ruled out, your healthcare provider may prescribe hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Although HRT may be effective, this treatment is controversial and is sometimes used for short periods as the underlying cause is treated. The use of HRT may increase the risk for developing heart problems, stroke or cancer.
Fortunately, there are some things you can try at home to manage low estrogen symptoms.