A disruption in the ovaries' ability to produce progesterone can occur at any time in a woman's life. Unless there is an underlying disorder, a low progesterone level is most likely to occur during perimenopause and menopause.
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Low progesterone is associated with many signs and symptoms, but because women react differently to hormonal imbalances, it is difficult to present a comprehensive list. If you experience any changes indicative of impending menopause, talk to your doctor. She may refer you to an endocrinologist, who will likely obtain a hormone profile to detect a suboptimal level of progesterone in your blood.
Irritability and Mood Swings
As the hormonal shifts of perimenopause and menopause begin, you may report feeling emotionally labile and much unlike yourself. This is a common result of fluctuating hormonal levels, and it will continue indefinitely until your body acclimates, or you make a decision to begin hormone replacement therapy. According to the Association of Women for the Advancement of Research and Education, "By postmenopause a woman's progesterone will drop to nearly zero."
Menorrhagia and/or Irregular Menstrual Cycles
As a result of fluctuating estrogen and progesterone levels, a hallmark of perimenopause is the occurrence of irregular and/or less frequent periods. The official onset of menopause occurs when your body completely discontinues the cycles of ovulation and menstruation.
What you may not understand, however, is that when you do experience a period, bleeding during that period may be excessive, or more than you usually experience. This is called menorrhagia, which, according to MayoClinic.com, can produce cramping and bleeding severe enough that it interferes with your normal routine. Although the blood loss you experience during this time is likely not enough to be diagnostic of menorrhagia, you should report any such changes to your provider.
If you have a low progesterone level, especially in relation to your estrogen level, you may experience breast tenderness. Report any such finding to your doctor, as much research exists that links the hormonal changes that occur during perimenopause and menopause--such as low progesterone and high testosterone--to an increased risk of breast cancer.
According to the March/April 2002 edition of "The International Journal of Pharmaceutical Compounding," study-based "results provide clear evidence that unopposed estrogen stimulates the hyperproliferation of breast epithelial cells and that progesterone protects against that hyperproliferation." There continues to be emerging research that progesterone serves a protective role with regard to the development of breast cancer; therefore, a woman with a low progesterone level may be at an increased risk of developing the disease.
As with most hormonal imbalances, cosmetic symptoms of a low progesterone level include increased facial and body hair, the development of acne, and weight gain. If left unchecked, weight gain can quickly become a health risk, as well. Your doctor will examine you for these cosmetic changes and discuss the risks and benefits of treatment options to alleviate these low-progesterone side effects.