Levels of estrogen — a group of female hormones — fall naturally when a woman approaches menopause. But sometimes younger women will also experience low estrogen.
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Numerous conditions can be responsible, ranging from excessive exercise or weight loss to tumors in the ovary. The most obvious symptoms of low estrogen are menstruation changes, hot flashes and night sweats. Other physical and mental or emotional symptoms may also occur.
Menstruation Changes, Hot Flashes and Night Sweats
Low estrogen levels often affect menstruation. Periods typically become shorter and occur less often. When estrogen levels are sufficiently low, periods will stop altogether. Sometimes menstruation changes are not obvious and the only symptom is an inability to become pregnant. Hot flashes and night sweats, typical of menopause, may also occur in younger women with low estrogen levels.
Other Physical Symptoms
Low estrogen levels affect the vagina, reducing the amount of natural vaginal discharge and causing the vaginal lining to become thinner. These changes produce vaginal dryness and may lead to pain with intercourse.
Low estrogen also alters vaginal pH, increasing the likelihood of vaginal yeast infections and bladder infections. Headaches, hair loss, thinning of the skin and weight gain are among other possible symptoms of low estrogen. Prolonged low estrogen levels can lead to thin bones, or osteoporosis, increasing the risk of fractures.
Mental and Emotional Symptoms
Feelings of depression, irritability and mood swings may occur with low estrogen. Fatigue, difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating and loss of interest in sex are other possible symptoms.
Seeking Medical Attention
Estrogen is made primarily in the ovaries, although a small amount comes from the adrenal glands. Normal estrogen production depends on hormones released by two areas of the brain, the hypothalamus and the pituitary. Low estrogen in younger women can signal an underlying health problem affecting any of these areas, so it is important to see your doctor to determine the cause.
Reviewed and revised by Mary D. Daley, MD.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- American Family Physician: Impact of Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity on the Gynecologic Health of Adolescents
- Management of Common Problems in Obstetrics and Gynecology; T. Murphy Goodwin, et al.
- Women's Health: Principles and Clinical Practice; Janet P. Pregler, et al.
- Merck Manual Professional Version: Primary Ovarian Insufficiency
- Early Menopause Guidebook
- Puberty and Low Estrogen