As a woman, you’ve probably heard a lot about estrogen. But how well do you understand this critical female hormone? Because of the importance of estrogen in women’s well-being, our providers at Women’s Healthcare of Princeton would like to tell you more about the crucial role that estrogen plays in your life.
Estrogen is secreted into your bloodstream by your ovaries, two walnut-size organs in your pelvic cavity. (Your ovaries also secrete progesterone, another important female hormone.) Estrogen plays a part in every part of your reproductive life, from puberty to menopause.
Although other body parts, such as your adrenal glands and your fat cells, also produce estrogen, most of it comes from your ovaries.
Estrogen and puberty
When you hit puberty, estrogen causes you to develop what’s referred to as secondary sex characteristics: Your breasts develop, your hips widen, and you grow pubic hair and armpit hair.
Estrogen also tells your body to start menstruating at around the age of 12 and to release an egg every month. During the months that you don’t become pregnant, estrogen instructs your body to begin a menstrual period, during which you shed the extra cells in your uterine lining that you only need if you’re pregnant.
Estrogen and pregnancy
If you have sex after ovulating, or releasing an egg, estrogen plays a part in helping you become and stay pregnant. Then, after you give birth, estrogen helps your body produce breast milk.
Estrogen and menopause
As your childbearing years wind down, and you begin to transition into menopause, your body reduces its production of estrogen and progesterone.
Estrogen and progesterone levels begin to decline starting around your late 30s. Most women enter menopause in their early 50s, after 12 months without a menstrual cycle.
Estrogen and hysterectomy
If you have your ovaries removed during a hysterectomy, either by themselves or with your uterus, you go through what’s known as surgical menopause. Your ovaries make most of the estrogen in your body, so when they’re surgically removed, your estrogen levels drop off rapidly.
Estrogen and symptoms
Decreases in estrogen due to natural or surgical menopause can cause a variety of symptoms, including:
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Skipped or irregular periods
- Lower energy levels
- Mood changes and sleep problems
- Urinary urgency or frequency
- Urinary tract infections
- Vaginal dryness
- Discomfort or pain while having sex
- Weight gain and a slower metabolism
- Dry skin or thinning hair
- A reduction of fullness in your breasts
Women who experience unpleasant symptoms due to lower levels of estrogen have several options for relieving those symptoms. You may have the choice of taking low-dose systemic estrogen, which comes in the form of a pill, skin patch, gel, cream, or spray.
Taking estrogen can relieve some symptoms, such as hot flashes, low energy, insomnia, and mental fogginess. It may also protect your heart and bones, because estrogen plays a role in heart and bone health as well as reproductive function.
However, not all women should take estrogen. For example, we may not recommend it for women with a history of hormone-sensitive breast cancer.
You may also feel relief with other medications, as well as lifestyle changes and mind/body strategies, such as meditation or yoga.
To learn more about how estrogen affects your health and how you can cope with changes in your estrogen levels, call our office for an appointment or click the “book online” button to schedule a visit