Progesterone is a female sex hormone produced mainly in the ovaries following ovulation each month. It’s a crucial part of the menstrual cycle.
Progesterone helps to regulate your cycle, but its main job is to get your uterus ready for pregnancy. After you ovulate each month, progesterone helps thicken the lining of the uterus in preparation for a fertilized egg. If there is no fertilized egg, progesterone levels drop again and menstruation begins. If a fertilized egg does implant in the uterine wall, progesterone helps to maintain the uterine lining throughout pregnancy.
Progesterone is also necessary for breast development and breast-feeding. It also complements some of the effects of estrogen, another female hormone.
Men produce a small amount of progesterone to aid in the development of sperm.
Progesterone is especially important in your childbearing years. If you don’t have enough progesterone, you may have trouble getting pregnant. Each month, after one of your ovaries releases an egg, your progesterone levels should rise. Progesterone helps the uterus thicken in anticipation of receiving a fertilized egg. If it’s not thick enough, implantation doesn’t occur.
If you do get pregnant, you still need progesterone to maintain your uterus until your baby is born. If your progesterone levels are too low, your uterus may not be able to carry the baby to term.
During pregnancy, signs of low progesterone include spotting and abdominal pain. Low progesterone may indicate toxemia or ectopic pregnancy. There may also be danger of miscarriage or fetal death.
For women who aren’t pregnant, low progesterone may cause abnormal uterine bleeding. Irregular or absent periods may indicate poorly functioning ovaries and low progesterone.
Without progesterone to complement it, estrogen may become the dominant hormone. This may lead to a variety of symptoms, including:
- weight gain
- decreased sex drive, mood swings, and depression
- PMS, irregular menstrual cycle, heavy bleeding
- breast tenderness, fibrocystic breasts
- fibroids, endometriosis
- gallbladder problems
- thyroid dysfunction
A progesterone test (PGSN) can help determine if your progesterone levels are too low. This is a simple blood test that doesn’t require any preparation.
The test can offer clues as to why you’re having trouble getting pregnant. It can also confirm whether or not you’ve ovulated. The PGSN test can be used to monitor the health of a high-risk pregnancy. It’s also useful in monitoring hormone replacement therapy.
Progesterone levels fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle. It peaks about seven days before your period. It can even vary in the course of a single day. Progesterone levels are usually higher than normal during pregnancy. They’re even higher if you’re expecting more than one baby.
Poorly functioning ovaries can result in poor progesterone production. During menopause, it’s natural for estrogen and progesterone levels to fall.
Men, children, and post-menopausal women have lower progesterone levels than women in their childbearing years do.
Having low progesterone may not present a problem for you, and you may not need to treat it. But if you’re trying to have a baby, hormone therapy to increase progesterone may help thicken your uterine lining. This may improve your chances of having a healthy pregnancy and carrying to term.
Menstrual irregularities and abnormal bleeding can also be improved through hormone therapy.
For severe symptoms of menopause, hormone therapy usually consists of a combination of estrogen and progesterone. Women who take estrogen without progesterone are at increased risk of developing endometrial cancer. However, progesterone is not necessary for women who no longer have a uterus.
Hormone therapy may help ease symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness. For some women, it improves mood and state of mind. It may also lower your risk of osteoporosis and diabetes. Oral progesterone may provide a calming effect, making it easier to sleep.
Hormone therapy may increase the risk of stroke, blood clots, and gallbladder troubles. If you’ve had breast cancer or endometrial cancer, your doctor will probably advise against hormone therapy. Women with a history of liver disease, blood clots, or stroke shouldn’t take hormone therapy.