Symptoms of low estrogen typically occur in women approaching and experiencing menopause. However, younger women can also experience low estrogen, but their symptoms (and causes) differ from menopausal women.
There are three types of estrogen: estriol, estradiol and estrone. Some women do not naturally produce enough of one or all forms. Abnormal levels could signal the presence of ovarian or adrenal cancer. Young women can experience low estrogen levels from a variety of causes, and the type of testing used to measure levels depends on symptoms, age, family history and physical exam.
The most common symptom of low estrogen in younger women is lack of menstruation and delayed development. Younger women, under age 40, with low estrogen can experience early menopause resulting in hot flashes and night sweats. Fatigue is a common complaint associated the condition. Women report forgetfulness, insomnia, lack of sexual desire and painful intercourse when estrogen levels are low or begin to decline. Irregular menstruation or lack of menstruation occurs. Bladder infections and headaches might occur. Mood changes that lead to crying, feelings of depression and irritability are also symptoms. Bone loss also occurs that leads to osteoporosis. Inability to become pregnant can signal low estrogen levels in younger women.
Estrogen is produced primarily in the ovaries. Some estrogen is produced by the adrenal glands. Signals for estrogen production come from the pituitary gland, and levels vary throughout life depending on the stage of a woman's menstrual cycle. Estrogen is the hormone that provides female characteristics for women.
Genetic disease can result in low estrogen in younger women. Turner syndrome is an inherited disease that leads to short stature and lack of ovulation, normal female development and lack of menstruation. Chemotherapy or radiation can also interfere with estrogen production, along with thyroid disorders.
Other conditions that cause low estrogen levels in younger women include excessive exercise, eating disorders and too little body fat. Extreme exercise, just before and during puberty, such as gymnastics and dancing, can cause estrogen levels to be low, delaying normal female development. A symptom of low estrogen in younger women is delayed development and lack of menstruation (amenorrhea).
How To Know If Estrogen Is Low
Your doctor will determine which type of blood or urine test is needed to determine if you have low estrogen levels. Younger women may be tested for FSH (follicle stimulating hormone), an direct measurement of estrogen production. When estrogen levels are low, FSH levels also decline. Younger women suspected to have Turner syndrome might undergo chromosomal testing. The syndrome is the result of abnormality in X chromosomes.
Low estrogen level treatment is based on the underlying cause. Younger women going through menopause are not treated the same as older women with low estrogen levels. In all cases, the underlying cause determines the specific treatment.
Because symptoms of low estrogen levels can signal underlying health problems, especially in younger women, it is important to see your physician for testing. Younger women with symptoms of low estrogen levels should be evaluated for cause and treatment.