Low Progesterone: What It Means, Why It Matters

Progesterone Overview

Low progesterone in women can cause symptoms like headaches, depression, or anxiety.
Low progesterone in women can cause symptoms like headaches, depression, or anxiety.

Progesterone is a hormone that the body produces naturally. Many people know it for its role in female fertility and reproduction. But both men and women produce it.

In women, a temporary hormone gland produces progesterone. During a woman’s fertile time, the gland makes progesterone. This hormone thickens the lining of the uterus to prepare it for pregnancy. If the woman does not get pregnant during this time, the gland breaks down. Then, progesterone decreases and menstruation begins. If she does get pregnant, her ovaries and placenta continue to produce progesterone throughout the pregnancy.

In men, the testes produce progesterone. Men need progesterone to produce testosterone. It also helps sperm mature. Researchers have experimented with man-made progesterone, or progestin, as a form of male birth control. Women’s hormonal birth control, such as the pill or the patch, combines progestin and another hormone called estrogen to prevent pregnancy.

Both men and women can have low progesterone levels. It can cause health problems for both sexes. Here’s information you should have to learn the signs and causes of low progesterone and how doctors treat it.

Low Progesterone in Women

In women, low progesterone can cause irregular periods. It can also make it difficult to get pregnant. Women with low levels who do get pregnant have a higher risk of miscarriage. That’s because progesterone helps the uterus maintain the pregnancy. Also, women who have low amounts of this hormone may have too much estrogen. That can cause weight gain, loss of sex drive, and gallbladder problems.

Here are some signs that you might have low progesterone:

Low Progesterone in Men

When men have low levels of progesterone, they also have low levels of testosterone. Some of the symptoms in men are the same as in women, such as depression, irritability, and low libido. Other symptoms are different and vary by age. Here are some symptoms you might have:

What’s Normal for You?

Doctors measure progesterone levels with a blood test. The results come out in nanograms (ng) of progesterone per milliliter (mL) of blood.

A “normal” progesterone level depends on your age, sex, and health history. For women, levels vary throughout the menstrual cycle and throughout pregnancy.

Here’s what’s normal for women:

  • At the beginning of the menstrual cycle: 0.1 to 0.7 ng/mL
  • At the end of the menstrual cycle: 2 to 25 ng/mL
  • In the first trimester of pregnancy: 10 to 44 ng/mL
  • In the last few months of pregnancy: 65 to 290 ng/mL

Progesterone production stops after your final menstrual period.

Men make much smaller amounts of this hormone.

What Causes Low Progesterone?

The main causes of low progesterone in women are menopause, problems with the ovaries, or miscarriage.

For men, progesterone levels drop with age.

How Low Progesterone Is Treated

Women with low progesterone, especially during or near menopause, might receive hormone replacement therapy (HRT). The treatment combines progestin and estrogen in a pill or skin patch. You might also get a cream or spray that you can apply directly to the vagina.

HRT can help relieve symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness. It may also lower the risk of colon cancer. But, HRT also has drawbacks.

If you take HRT for longer than three to five years, you may have an increased risk of breast cancer. HRT also carries a small risk of heart attack, stroke, blood clots, and gallbladder disease.

Low progesterone in men is trickier to treat. Often there’s an underlying cause for the low progesterone. When doctors treat that cause, progesterone levels may go back up. Leading a healthy lifestyle, including exercise, a nutritious diet, 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night, and managing your weight can help keep your hormones in balance.

Talk to your doctor if you think you have low progesterone. And be honest about your symptoms. Medical questions related to sexual health can be embarrassing. But an uncomfortable conversation with your doctor is more tolerable than years of discomfort and unhappiness.

References
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The Endocrine Society’s Hormone Health Network: “Progesterone and Progestins.”

Stanford Children’s Health: “Hormones During Pregnancy.”

Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism: “Male Contraception.”

Aging Male: “Progesterone: The Forgotten Hormone in Men.”

National Women’s Health Resource Center: “Low Progesterone Symptoms.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Low Testosterone (Male Hypogonadism).”

University of Rochester Medical Center: “Progesterone.”

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “The Menopause Years.”

American Family Physician: “Hormone Therapy and Other Treatments for Symptoms of Menopause.”

Mayo Clinic: “Is There Any Safe Way to Naturally Boost a Man's Testosterone Level?”

American Academy of Family Physicians: “Ways to Increase Low Testosterone.”
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