You can develop a hormonal imbalance due to underlying health conditions and some treatments. Symptoms in people assigned female at birth may include breast tenderness and weight gain. People assigned male at birth may experience infertility.
Your body’s hormones are like a seesaw. When they’re perfectly balanced, your body works as it should. But when they’re unbalanced, you may experience issues.
Estrogen is known as the “female” hormone. Testosterone is known as the “male” hormone. Although each hormone is identified with a specific sex, everyone produces both of them. Typically, people assigned female at birth produce higher levels of estrogen, and people assigned male at birth produce more testosterone.
In this article, we talk about high estrogen levels in people assigned male or female at birth. It’s important to note that not everyone assigned male or female at birth identifies with the label “male” or “female.” However, at times we use “male” or “female” to reflect the language in a study or statistic or to make sure people can find this article with the terms they search for. When possible, we aim to be inclusive and create content that reflects the diversity of our readers.
In people assigned female at birth, estrogen helps initiate sexual development. Along with another “female” sex hormone known as progesterone, it also regulates the menstrual cycle and affects the entire reproductive system. Prior to menopause, estrogen and progesterone levels vary from one stage of the menstrual cycle to another.
In people assigned male at birth, estrogen also plays an important role in sexual function.
But some health conditions can affect your hormonal balance. Read on to learn more about the causes, symptoms, and treatment of conditions that may cause high estrogen levels.
High levels of estrogen can develop naturally, but too much estrogen can also result from taking certain medications or other health conditions. These can include:
- hormonal imbalance due to
- hormone replacement therapy, which may treat symptoms of menopause
- in vitro fertilization (IVF)
- estrogen-producing tumors, such as ovarian cancer
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) may cause an excess of estrogen in relation to progesterone.
High estrogen levels can cause various symptoms, depending on your sex assigned at birth.
Symptoms of excess estrogen in females
Symptoms that may occur with conditions that contribute to excess estrogen in people assigned female at birth can include:
- breast tenderness
- weight gain
- light or heavy menstrual bleeding
- worsening of premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
- fibrocystic lumps in your breasts
- fibroids (noncancerous tumors) in the uterus
- decreased sex drive
- feeling depressed or anxious
Symptoms of high estrogen in males
A healthy balance of estrogen and testosterone supports sexual growth and development. When these hormones become imbalanced, your sexual development and function may be affected.
Symptoms of high estrogen in people assigned male at birth can include:
- Infertility: Estrogen is partly responsible for creating healthy sperm. When estrogen levels are high, sperm levels may fall and lead to fertility issues.
- Gynecomastia: Estrogen may stimulate breast tissue growth. Males with too much estrogen may develop gynecomastia, a condition that leads to larger breasts.
- Erectile dysfunction (ED): Males with high levels of estrogen may have difficulty getting or maintaining an erection.
If your doctor suspects you have a hormonal imbalance, they may diagnose the cause based on your symptoms and the results of certain tests.
If a therapy such as HRT is contributing to your symptoms, they may recommend changes to your treatment plan.
Your estrogen levels may vary by your sex assigned at birth, age, and other factors.
There are three types of estrogen:
- estradiol, the primary “female” sex hormone
- estrone, a “minor” female sex hormone
- estriol, a minor “female” sex hormone that is nearly undetectable except during pregnancy
|Prepubescent female||undetectable–29 pg/mL||undetectable–20 pg/ml|
|Pubescent female||10–200 pg/mL||undetectable–350 pg/ml|
|Premenopausal adult female||17–200 pg/mL||30–400 pg/mL|
|Postmenopausal adult female||7–40 pg/mL||30–400 pg/mL|
|Prepubescent male||undetectable–16 pg/ml||undetectable–13 pg/ml|
|Pubescent male||undetectable–60 pg/ml||undetectable–40 pg/ml|
|Adult male||10–60 pg/ml||10 to 50 pg/mL|
In premenopausal females, estradiol levels can vary widely throughout the menstrual cycle.
A doctor may recommend treatment for the underlying condition of your hormonal imbalance. They may also recommend treatments to help reduce any symptoms you may be experiencing as a result of the underlying condition. This can include:
- dietary changes
- lifestyle changes
If you develop symptoms relating to HRT, a doctor may change your hormone therapy plan. This might help your body achieve a healthier hormone balance.
If you have PCOS, they may prescribe medications that include:
- hormonal contraceptives
- Metformin (Glucophage, Riomet, Glumetza)
- medications to treat complications like infertility and excessive hair growth
If you have a type of cancer that’s sensitive to estrogen, a doctor might prescribe medications to block cancer cells from binding to estrogen as a form of adjuvant therapy.
Alternatively, they might prescribe an aromatase inhibitor. This type of medication stops the enzyme aromatase from converting androgens into estrogen. In other cases, they might prescribe a medication that stops your ovaries from producing estrogen.
Most of the health conditions that can contribute to excess estrogen do not require surgery. But if you have a type of cancer that’s sensitive to estrogen, such as some types of breast cancer, a doctor might recommend an oophorectomy to reduce your levels of estrogen. This surgery removes the ovaries.
Since ovaries produce most of the estrogen in the body, removing them lowers estrogen levels. This is known as surgical menopause.
If you have PCOS, a doctor might recommend changes to your eating habits to support weight loss and balanced hormone production. This may involve:
- eating fewer processed foods
- eating fewer red meat products and more plant-based foods
- eating more whole grains and fewer refined carbs
- reducing the amount of unhealthy fats in your diet
- eating more fiber
- following a Mediterranean eating plan
If you have PCOS, a doctor may recommend lifestyle changes to help reduce and manage your symptoms. These may include:
High levels of estrogen can put you at a higher risk of other conditions. In females, these can include:
In males, higher than typical levels may cause infertility and gynecomastia.
If you’re experiencing unusual symptoms that may indicate a hormonal imbalance, consider making an appointment to talk with a doctor.
They can help you learn if these symptoms are caused by an underlying health condition or a medication you’re taking.
Some health conditions may affect your hormonal balance, causing symptoms and raising your risk for certain health conditions.
Treating hormonal imbalance can depend on its cause and may include medication and changes to diet.
Managing your hormone levels by treating the underlying cause may help reduce your symptoms as well as your risk for complications.