When estrogen decreases due to menopause, surgery, or other conditions, low estrogen symptoms can affect weight, mood, sexual desire, bone health, and more.
While men’s bodies produce a very small amount of estradiol (a form of estrogen), estrogen is primarily a hormone associated with women and their health — and for good reason.
Estrogen is necessary for the sexual development of girls when they reach adolescence. It controls the growth and shedding of the uterus lining that results in menstruation, too. Estrogen is responsible for breast changes during pregnancy, and the hormone is also involved in bone health and metabolism.
So, it’s not hard to understand that when levels of estrogen are abnormal, or drop naturally due to menopause, symptoms of low estrogen can appear, ranging from hardly noticeable to unpleasant.
What causes low estrogen symptoms?
Menopause is the most common and well-known reason estrogen levels become lower. The drop in estrogen usually starts in the late 30s or 40s as ovaries make less estrogen and fertility declines. Finally, no more eggs are produced by the ovaries, and estrogen lessens even more at menopause, which usually occurs around age 52 in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health.
But there are other causes of low estrogen symptoms. For example, having a complete hysterectomy (meaning both uterus and ovaries are removed), causes menopause to develop abruptly, resulting in often severe symptoms of low estrogen.
Primary ovarian insufficiency (POI) is another cause of low estrogen. POI, which means a woman's ovaries stop working normally before she is 40 years of age, frequently runs in families. Chemotherapy and radiation treatment for cancer can also induce early menopause — causing, at least temporarily, symptoms of low estrogen such as hot flashes.
The ovaries can fail to produce normal amounts of estrogen and other reproductive hormones due to certain autoimmune and genetic conditions such as Turner syndrome, too.
Young women who excessively exercise or have eating disorders such as bulimia or anorexia are also at risk for missed or irregular periods and low estrogen.
Low estrogen symptoms are varied
Not everyone with low estrogen experiences many symptoms caused by the diminishing hormone level. However, some low estrogen symptoms are common, such as the infamous hot flashes of menopause that affect about three out of four women during menopause.
A drop in estrogen produces the sudden feeling of heat known as a hot flash, which is sometimes accompanied by red blotches on the upper body, a red face, and sweating. Cold chills can follow.
While you likely can’t help but notice hot flashes, you may not be aware you have another potential symptom of low estrogen — weak bones — unless you suffer a fracture or learn from a bone density test your bones are thinning.
It isn’t just older women who can suffer from the bone weakening effects of low estrogen either. Low bone density is reported in up to half of elite female athletes because intense exercise over time can result in missed periods and low estrogen, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
You might become forgetful if you are experiencing low estrogen symptoms. As many as two-thirds of women going through perimenopause (the time leading up to menopause) say they have problems with memory or trouble focusing. The Office on Women’s Health notes insomnia and night sweats linked to low estrogen are likely behind these symptoms. Mood swings and even depression may be associated with low estrogen levels, too.
More low estrogen symptoms
- Missed or late menstrual periods during perimenopause are frequent signs of low estrogen.
- Bladder or urinary problems may develop during menopause (including urine leakage when you sneeze, cough, or laugh) due to low estrogen weakening your urethra, the duct that carries urine out of your body from the bladder.
- Painful intercourse can result from low estrogen causing vaginal thinning and drying.
- Gaining weight more easily, especially around the middle of your abdomen, is linked to low estrogen during perimenopause and menopause.
Bottom line? Talk to your doctor about low estrogen symptoms
Don’t assume new symptoms are necessarily due to low estrogen, even if you are hitting middle-age. Talk to your doctor about testing hormone levels to make sure. If your estrogen is low and symptoms are troublesome, discuss ways to find relief.
Exercise, relaxation techniques, and medication, if appropriate, can often help. And the good news is symptoms due to low estrogen during menopause may improve and even resolve over time.
Other self-help strategies to reduce low estrogen caused hot flashes include avoiding alcohol, spicy foods, and excessive caffeine, the National Institute on Aging advises. Work on maintaining a healthy weight, too. Women who are significantly overweight may experience more severe and frequent hot flashes due to low estrogen.
January 16, 2019
Janet O’Dell, RN