Maybe your nights are becoming increasingly restless. Perhaps your periods have been a bit irregular and for the first time in your life, you are experiencing mood swings. Or you begin to suspect that the sudden warmth you’re feeling isn’t a sign you’re coming down with something, but a hot flash. While these symptoms can start mildly enough, eventually you start to realize that something’s just not right. When this happens, it’s time to consider whether you may be suffering the symptoms of estrogen deficiency.
Estrogen is the primary sex hormone in women, influencing critical physiological processes throughout the body. As such, insufficient estrogen can have profound effects on both your physical and emotional wellbeing and may significantly compromise your quality of life. By recognizing the symptoms of estrogen deficiency, you can ensure that you get the support you need to restore balance and find relief. What’s more, it could help you protect your long-term health.
Understanding the Impact of Estrogen
To understand the significance of estrogen deficiency and how it can occur, it is first necessary to consider the function and influence of estrogen on the human body and its systems. Estrogen is the collective name for a group of chemically similar hormones that include estrone, estradiol, estriol, and estetrol. In women, it is produced in the ovaries and, to a lesser extent, in other body tissues. Like other hormones, estrogen travels through the bloodstream as a chemical messenger, affecting virtually every part of the body. However, there are a number of areas in which it exerts particular influence, including sexual and reproductive health, bone density, and mood.
With such wide-reaching influence over a range of body systems, it is clear that estrogen deficiency has the potential to disrupt many critical processes. But the onset of estrogen deficiency is not predictable and may be hard to recognize. In fact, its effects may be felt long before the cause becomes clear.
Recognizing the Symptoms of Estrogen Deficiency
Because estrogen impacts many of the body’s systems, the symptoms of estrogen deficiency can vary greatly in kind and severity. They also typically begin gradually, are non-specific, and are easily attributed to other causes, making it difficult for many women to identify the cause of their distress. The most common symptoms include:
- Hot flashes. Since estrogen works on the hypothalamus in the brain to help maintain body temperature, one of the most classic and easily recognizable signs of estrogen deficiency is a sudden, uncomfortable surge of heat. Hot flashes are felt acutely over the face, neck, and torso and may be accompanied by reddening of the skin and sweating.
- Night sweats. When hot flashes occur at night, they may disrupt sleep with sudden discomfort and sweating. A chill may follow, particularly if pajamas or bedding become wet with perspiration.
- Menstrual changes. Many women experience irregularities in their menstrual cycles as one of the early symptoms of estrogen deficiency.
- Vaginal dryness. As estrogen levels decrease, the tissue of the vagina atrophies, becoming thinner and less elastic. Natural lubrication ceases, and the result can be irritation and pain during sexual activity.
- Infertility. Estrogen has a major influence on the reproductive system and insufficient estrogen may interfere with the ability to conceive.
- Mood swings. Changing hormone levels can precipitate mood swings that are difficult to predict or control. This can not only be distressing on its own, it also makes dealing with other symptoms even more challenging.
- Lack of energy. Estrogen plays a role in energy balance through its effects on the hypothalamus. As levels decrease, women often experience low energy and fatigue. The discomfort of daytime symptoms and sleep disturbances that accompany estrogen deficiency can also contribute to the lack of energy.
- Changes in body composition. Estrogen plays a role in preventing abdominal fat deposition. As a result, women are more susceptible to gaining intra-abdominal fat as estrogen levels decrease. This central weight gain has been associated with type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and atherosclerotic heart disease.
Most often, these symptoms result from the natural and anticipated decline of estrogen that occurs at perimenopause and menopause. Women whose ovaries stop working normally before the age of 40, however, may be experiencing primary ovarian insufficiency (POI), which mimics the symptoms of menopause but does not necessarily end the menstrual cycle. Other causes of estrogen deficiency include surgical removal of the ovaries (oophorectomy), chemotherapy, eating disorders or drastic weight loss, thyroid conditions, excessive exercise, and some congenital conditions. Estrogen deficiency may also be caused by a genetic or chromosomal abnormality, and it may be secondary to disease or malfunction elsewhere in the body. Assessing your hormone levels and identifying the source of any hormone imbalance is essential to finding an appropriate solution to your symptoms.
The Benefits of HRT for Estrogen Deficiency
Unfortunately, symptoms of estrogen deficiency often come on gradually and are nonspecific, leaving many women to suffer in silence. Accustomed to painful periods and the discomforts of pregnancy, they chalk up their experiences to biological inevitability and put up with disruptive symptoms. But you do not have to live with the symptoms of estrogen deficiency. Today, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) offers an effective treatment that compensates for your body’s diminished estrogen levels and restores hormonal balance.
HRT for estrogen deficiency typically consists of estrogen in pellet, cream, patch, gel, vaginal ring, or pill form. For women with an intact uterus, estrogen is given in combination with progesterone. This treatment approach is highly effective for alleviating a range of estrogen-related symptoms, including hot flashes, vaginal dryness, fatigue, and mood swings. It also helps prevent bone loss and reduces the risk of osteoporosis—a critical preventive measure for women who experience estrogen deficiency at a young age.
Due to estrogen’s broad influence on many body systems, there are a number of other promising potential benefits that are currently being studied. For example, it appears that hormone therapy may have a balancing effect on glucose metabolism, increasing sensitivity to insulin in women with diabetes. Estrogen has also been linked to memory and cognitive function, and there is substantial interest in its potential protective effect on age-related cognitive decline. Researchers are also investigating the role hormone therapy may play in the inflammatory process. Currently, evidence suggests that estrogen therapy may offer a protective effect against inflammatory disease, which includes everything from diabetes and cardiovascular disease to autoimmune disorders and even cancer.
Seeking Peace of Body and Mind
Whether the symptoms of estrogen deficiency are caused by the natural aging process, a disease process, or environmental influence, their manifestation can be equally disconcerting—and dangerous. While changing moods, lack of energy, and sleep disturbances compromise everyday functionality, asymptomatic changes in body composition, fat deposition, and chronic inflammation may be silently causing serious consequences for vital organs and tissues.
If you suspect you may have estrogen deficiency, seeking the guidance of an expert is critical to protecting your health. A health care practitioner who specializes in hormone health can help you pinpoint the exact cause of your symptoms and will work with you to determine the best course of action. If hormone replacement therapy is indicated, it has the potential to not only alleviate the physical and emotional discomforts of estrogen deficiency, but may protect you from future health risks.
If you are experiencing symptoms of estrogen deficiency, BodyLogicMD can help. The BodyLogicMD network is comprised of top medical professionals specializing in hormone health and HRT. By working with a BodyLogicMD-affiliated practitioner, you can gain greater insight into your health and create meaningful strategies to achieve your health goals. Contact a local practitioner to schedule your first appointment, or take the BodyLogicMD Hormone Balance Quiz to learn more about how your hormones may be affecting your everyday life.
Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. All content on this website is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent diseases.
Charlotte is a patient care coordinator specializing in bioidentical hormone replacement therapy. She is committed to helping patients who struggle with the symptoms of hormonal change and imbalance explore their treatment options and develop effective strategies to optimize wellness.