If you have low oestrogen levels, you might be feeling particularly tired, low in mood and even experiencing painful sex. We asked a gynaecologist to explain the main symptoms and what causes them.
Hormones have a huge role to play in our bodies, affecting everything from sleep to mental health to energy levels. One of the most important hormones in women’s bodies is oestrogen, which is produced by the ovaries and helps develop and maintain the reproductive system and has an important role to play in the development of attributes such as breasts and pubic hair. But what happens when your body’s oestrogen levels are low?
As well as being responsible for the reproductive system, oestrogen also contributes to “brain health, bone health, emotional health, the function of the cardiovascular system, as well as many more essential bodily processes”, says Dr Sarah Welsh, a gynaecologist and founder of the sexual wellness brand Hanx. This means that low oestrogen levels can have a pretty big impact on many areas of your body.
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What are the symptoms of low oestrogen levels?
One of the first things you might notice if you have low oestrogen levels is that your periods are different to normal. This is because oestrogen is one of the main hormones involved in the menstrual cycle. “Low levels of oestrogen can cause irregular or absent periods,” Welsh says, adding that low oestrogen may also prevent you from ovulating and could impact fertility.
Low oestrogen levels are traditionally associated with the menopause, and common symptoms associated with that are hot flushes and night sweats, as well as vaginal dryness. As oestrogen affects vaginal lubrication, low levels can cause vaginal dryness which can lead to painful sex.
“Women are also more prone to urinary tract infections if they have low oestrogen,” Welsh says, adding that, “bone health relies on oestrogen, and therefore low levels can increase the risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures.”
Some of the more general symptoms include changes in mood and tiredness. “Some women may experience headaches or trouble concentrating, as well as dry skin and tender breasts,” Welsh adds.
What causes low oestrogen levels?
The main cause of low oestrogen levels is menopause, which typically occurs for most women at around the age of 51 when your ovaries naturally stop producing the hormone. Some women go through early menopause, also known as primary ovarian insufficiency, whereby your ovaries stop producing eggs before the age of 40, which could be another reason your oestrogen levels are low.
Other than that, many people who suffer from eating disorders and have a low body weight will have low oestrogen levels. According to Welsh, “Anorexia and bulimia can deprive your body of nutrients essential in hormonal balance.”
Hypothalamic amenorrhea is a condition in which your periods stop because of problems with your hypothalamus, the hormone centre in the brain. It is often caused by “excessive exercise, high stress levels, or not eating enough, which affects the production of oestrogen,” Welsh says.
There are also some autoimmune conditions, conditions affecting your pituitary gland (which releases hormones that impact oestrogen production), and genetic conditions such as Turner syndrome and Fragile X syndrome, which can all cause low oestrogen. “Some medical treatments, such as cancer treatments, can cause damage to your ovaries, which can affect their release of oestrogen,” Welsh explains.
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What should you do if you think you might have low oestrogen levels?
If you are suffering from any of the symptoms mentioned above or think you might be dealing with one of the issues that cause low oestrogen levels in the body, you should speak to your GP.
Your doctor can test your hormone levels and will probably also ask you about your family history, as issues with low oestrogen can be genetic. They can prescribe you oestrogen if your levels are low – this can be taken orally, topically or vaginally. However, doctors usually prescribe oestrogen in fairly low doses because it could increase the risk of health issues such as blood clots and heart disease.
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