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Progesterone Levels In Women
November 3, 2020
- What is progesterone?
- What is the role of progesterone?
- What are normal progesterone levels in women?
- Symptoms of high progesterone
- Symptoms of low progesterone
- What causes low progesterone?
- How is low progesterone diagnosed?
- Managing your progesterone levels & symptoms
What is progesterone?
Progesterone is a hormone released by the corpus luteum in the ovary and plays a key part in your menstrual cycle and the early stages of pregnancy. Progesterone belongs to a family of steroid hormones called ‘progestogens’, and is mainly secreted during the second half of your menstrual cycle, called the ‘Luteal Phase’.
What is the role of progesterone?
Progesterone prepares your body for pregnancy, just in case the egg, which is released around day 14 of your cycle, is fertilised. If the egg isn’t fertilised, progesterone levels fall and a new menstrual cycle will begin.
If the egg is fertilised, progesterone is required to help sustain the pregnancy. Some of the roles progesterone plays in pregnancy include:
- Encouraging the growth of blood vessels to the lining of the womb (endometrium)
- Stimulate the secretion of nutrients from the endometrium to nourish the developing embryo
- Helps to thicken the lining of the uterus for the implantation of the fertilised egg
- Maintaining the endometrium throughout pregnancy
- Stimulates growth of breast tissue
- Prepares the body for labour by strengthening pelvic wall muscles
What are normal progesterone levels in women?
Progesterone levels naturally fluctuate during your menstrual cycle, and will begin to decline as you transition to menopause.
Progesterone levels are low during the first phase of the menstrual cycle, called the ‘follicular phase’, ranging between 0-0.6nmol/L.
During ovulation, levels rise to 0.2-13.2nmol/L. They rise again after ovulation, known as the ‘luteal phase’, to between 13.1-46.3nmol/L.
Postmenopausal levels tend to be below 0.4nmol/L.
A progesterone level of 30nmol/L or above on day 21 of your cycle is indicative of ovulation. You can test your progesterone levels with our easy-to-do, at-home progesterone blood test, or get even more insight with other key hormones involved in the menstrual cycle with our advanced female hormone mapping test, MyFORM®.
Symptoms of high progesterone
Progesterone levels naturally rise during your menstrual cycle and remain elevated when pregnant. However, high progesterone can also be the result of ovarian cysts, problems with your adrenal glands (such as congenital adrenal hyperplasia) and ovarian cancer. Symptoms of high progesterone are linked to premenstrual syndrome or PMS symptoms, and include;
- Tender and/or swollen breasts
- Low sex drive
- Depression, anxiety and/or mood changes
- Bloating and/or weight gain
Symptoms of low progesterone
Progesterone levels decline naturally at the end of your menstrual cycle, into the luteal phase. But consistently low progesterone levels across your entire menstrual cycle can cause a variety of symptoms that include:
- Irregular or no periods
- Low sex drive
- Hot flashes
- Migraines and/or headaches
- Depression, anxiety and/or mood changes
- Difficulty conceiving
If you have low progesterone when pregnant, you may experience:
- Spotting (light vaginal bleeding outside of your regular period)
- Abdominal pain
- Frequent low blood sugar
- Tender breasts
- Constant fatigue
- Vaginal dryness
If you’re concerned you may be suffering from high or low progesterone, a home progesterone test can help you get the help you need. You’ll get your results within 2 working days of your sample reaching our lab, making it a quick and easy way to keep track of your health.
What causes low progesterone?
Low progesterone levels can be caused by a variety of things, including:
- Anovulation: This is when ovulation doesn’t occur (an egg isn’t released).
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: PCOS is caused by a hormone imbalance and can affect your progesterone levels. PCOS can also cause anovulation.
- High stress: High levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, can impact the production of progesterone.
- Hypothyroidism: If you suffer from an underactive thyroid, your body may struggle to produce progesterone.
- Hyperprolactinemia: This is a condition where your body produces too much prolactin, the hormone responsible for lactation. Prolactin can disrupt other sec hormones, including progesterone, which can lead to irregular menstrual cycles.
- Perimenopause: Progesterone levels decrease naturally during perimenopause, as you transition to menopause.
- Overtraining: Too much exercise can cause hormone imbalances, including lowering your progesterone levels due to increased cortisol.
How is low progesterone diagnosed?
If you’re experiencing symptoms associated with low progesterone, a blood test is the best way to get diagnosed. Our ground-breaking female hormone mapping test, MyFORM, can show you how your progesterone levels are rising and falling across your entire menstrual cycle – alongside oestrogen, follicle-stimulating hormone and luteinising hormone. This will help identify if you’re suffering from low or high progesterone levels, and if you’ve had an anovulatory cycle.
Managing your progesterone levels & symptoms
If your blood test results show progesterone levels outside of the normal range for your age, you should discuss next steps with your GP. They will carry out further investigations to understand the underlying cause and the best treatment.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
For women who have low progesterone due to perimenopause/menopause, HRT may be prescribed. Although HRT is prescribed to relieve the symptoms associated with declining oestrogen levels, treatment does include progesterone, this is known as combined HRT.
There are pros and cons of taking HRT, which need to be considered on an individual basis.
Eating a healthy and balanced is important for maintaining healthy hormones. Key nutrients that can help support your levels of progesterone include vitamin B, C and zinc. However, causes of low or high progesterone should be investigated by your healthcare provider before any changes are made to your diet.
Exercise can help to improve the pain and discomfort experienced during your menstrual cycle.
Exercise is also beneficial for mood changes too. Physical activity can release endorphins which can increase your mood. During your period you go through hormonal changes which can affect the way you feel. By participating in exercise, it is possible to overcome these feelings and improve your social life.
- Claahsen-van der Grintern, H, L et al. (2006). Fertility in Patients with Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia. J Paediatr Endocrinol Metab: 19(5), pp 677-685.
- Hoimes-Walker, D, J et al. (1995). Menstrual Disturbance and Hypersecretion of Progesterone in Women with Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia Due to 21-Hydroxylase Deficiency. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf): 43(3), pp 291-6.
- Kumar, P et al. (2011). Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome. J Hum Reprod Sci: 4(2), pp 70-75.
- The Shropshire and Mid Wales Fertility Centre. (2016). Ovarian Hyperstimulation Causes, Risks, Treatment.
This information has been medically reviewed by Dr Thom Phillips
Thom works in NHS general practice and has a decade of experience working in both male and female elite sport. He has a background in exercise physiology and has published research into fatigue biomarkers.
Dr Thom Phillips
Head of clinical services
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