Trained in dentistry, Sree is currently pursuing lab sciences. She loves researching and sharing information on various health topics.
Women have two naturally occurring sex hormones that perform essential functions: estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen is responsible for the development of female characteristics in girls during and after puberty. Likewise, it also performs a protective function against physiological diseases like diabetes, heart illnesses, and Alzheimer's. More than that, it helps combat fatigue and obesity. Progesterone gets the endometrium ready for a potential pregnancy. If you've been experiencing symptoms associated with too much progesterone, this could mean the balance of your estrogen levels is also threatened.
Here I go over:
- What progesterone is
- What happens when you have too much progesterone
- Signs of elevated progesterone levels
- Preparing for a progesterone test
- What high progesterone means for you
- Men with high progesterone levels
- Managing high progesterone levels
What Is Progesterone?
First, let's talk about what progesterone is and why it's important to the body. Progesterone is categorized as a progestogen which is a group of steroid hormones that maintain pregnancy health. It is produced by the corpus luteum in the female ovary. That said, progesterone may also be secreted in small amounts by the adrenal glands and the ovaries themselves. This vital hormone is produced during the latter half of the woman's menstrual cycle. Not only is it indispensable in the menstrual cycle, but it's also needed in facilitating the early phases of pregnancy.
The Menstrual Cycle
During the 14th day of the menstrual cycle, the egg is freed from the ovaries. The leftover fragments of the ovarian follicle that held the developing ovum then create a structure known as the corpus luteum. This eventually secretes progesterone as well as estradiol. If the released egg was fertilized, the progesterone functions to prep your body for gestation. On the other hand, if fertilization of the mature egg does not occur, the corpus luteum disintegrates and progesterone production drops. This ushers in the next menstrual cycle.
In case the ovum becomes fertilized, the progesterone prompts the growth of blood vessels which will carry blood to the endometrium or the womb's lining. At the same time, this hormone activates the endometrial glands to produce nutrients that are needed by the budding embryo. Furthermore, the hormone is responsible for getting the uterine tissues ready for egg implantation. Continuous secretion of progesterone is needed during pregnancy to maintain the womb's lining. Otherwise, a lack of progesterone production will place the mother at risk for bleeding and miscarriage may occur.
The Science Behind an Embryo
The cells which enclose the embryo (which will, later on, construct the placenta) secretes hCG. That's the same hormone you're testing for when using a home pregnancy test kit. In other words, only pregnant women secrete high levels of human chorionic gonadotropin. This very same hormone will trigger the continuous production of progesterone until a viable placenta is formed. When the placenta is fully established at the 12th week of gestation, it takes over the job of the progesterone.
Additionally, the placenta may secrete the hormone in tiny amounts. That said, progesterone production is still needed all throughout the rest of the pregnancy in order to assist in the growth of the mother's breast tissues. Furthermore, it fortifies the pregnant woman's pelvic wall muscles in order to prepare her for the demands of labor. From the time of the fertilization to the time of labor and childbirth, progesterone levels are expected to rise progressively.
On top of it all, progesterone is also utilized in hormone replacement therapy for menopausal women. This hormone alleviates the bothersome symptoms. Now you know how good this hormone can be but as they say, too much of something is usually a bad thing.
What Happens When You Have Too Much Progesterone?
Fatigue: Chronic tiredness is one of the most common too much progesterone symptoms that both pregnant and non-pregnant women find hard to cope with. The elevated levels of progesterone within your body may direct signals to your brain to slow down receptor communications. As a matter of fact, this is why progesterone is often used to minimize the occurrence of seizure contractions in epileptic patients. Even so, too much progesterone in both pregnant and non-pregnant ladies tends to create a sedative effect that lessens work productivity and affects the overall quality of their lives.
Ovarian Cysts: The levels of progesterone in your body directly influence your reproductive organs and your menstrual cycle. In the event that excessive amounts of this hormone are being produced, ovarian cysts may develop. If too much progesterone is suspected to be the culprit of cyst formation, the physician may order a blood test to check progesterone levels.
Prevention of Pregnancy: Women take progesterone pills alone or in conjunction with estrogen to prevent ovulation and thus, make pregnancy difficult. This means too much unintentional progesterone may prevent conception.
Multiple Births: As previously mentioned, progesterone levels are expected to rise steadily all throughout pregnancy. If this doesn't happen, the doctor may order progesterone therapy. However, in a pregnant woman, extremely elevated progesterone levels may be indicative of multiple births. She may be carrying twins, triplets or more.
Effects on Intimacy: Abnormally high progesterone levels in both pregnant and non-pregnant women has the potential to affect their intimate relationships. Females may experience symptoms such as dryness in the vagina, and a lack of interest in intimate activities. Furthermore, other physiological symptoms associated with high progesterone levels, such as breast tenderness, make women less likely to feel aroused. In some cases, too much progesterone can cause depression.
Signs and Symptoms of Elevated Progesterone Levels
Frequently reported symptoms can be categorized by tell-tale signs, common symptoms, and rare symptoms.
Tell-tale Signs: Non-definitive but common signs of having too much progesterone in the body include
- Muscle weakness. You may feel tired most of the time for no apparent reason.
- Vaginal changes. The feeling of dryness in the reproductive area.
- Body Temperature. An elevation in body temperature.
Common Symptoms: Among the most frequently experienced symptoms of high progesterone are:
- chest tenderness
It's also possible for the affected individual to manifest frequent mood swings and a sudden drop in libido.
Rare Symptoms: Some unusual symptoms of high progesterone production may manifest in a few individuals. These include:
- oily skin and acne breakouts
- sudden headaches
- menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes
- sudden weight gain
- difficulty in holding in urine
- urinary tract infection
All of these symptoms are undoubtedly uncomfortable so finding relief from them is necessary for carrying on your usual life. However, before thinking of self-medicating, talk to your doctor about the symptoms you're experiencing. You'll likely need to get a blood test to be sure.
Catching the Culprit
There are many ways to determine whether the symptoms you're experiencing are really caused by elevated progesterone production. These include the following.
- BBT Charting: Basal body temperature charting is done by checking and keeping a daily record of your body temperature. This is done early in the morning upon waking or while your body is at rest. You should notice a small but noticeable increase in temperature just after ovulation. An irregular or persistently high temperature is indicative of high progesterone levels.
- Luteal Phase Length: Establish that you're ovulating through an ovulation detector strip. You'll know that there's a problem in the luteal phase if you note that your ovulation time is less than 11 days prior to your period. This, again, is indicative of too much progesterone production.
- Blood Hormone Exam: This test is performed only by a certified medical professional. Upon reporting the presence of too many progesterone symptoms to your physician, he/she may order a blood test. After being certain that the symptoms you're having are caused by high progesterone levels, your physician will guide you on the appropriate course of action.
When Should You Test Your Progesterone Levels?
Testing of progesterone levels is best done one week after the start of the ovulation. This way, you'll be able to detect the level of progesterone while it's at its peak. That said, this may only work with women who have regular menstrual cycles.
How Should I Prepare for a Progesterone Test?
A progesterone test is performed to measure the level of progesterone contained within your blood sample. This test is frequently done to determine the cause of infertility in women, to monitor the effectiveness of hormone therapy, or to check the success of infertility meds. It may also be performed to see whether ovulation is occurring. In pregnant women, a progesterone test may be ordered to assess the function of the placenta and the ovaries as well as to evaluate the risk of miscarriage. In a non-pregnant woman, progesterone testing may be ordered to aid in the diagnosis of adrenal gland diseases and certain types of cancer.
Your doctor will explain the necessary steps for preparing for a progesterone test. Follow their steps diligently so you achieve the most accurate results.
Understanding the Results of a Progesterone Test
If you've had yourself tested because of your symptoms, your doctor will explain the results to you. If you're hoping to understand your results on your own more closely, use the following table to verify them. It lists down the normal values which you can use as your reference range. That said, reference ranges tend to differ from laboratory to laboratory, so it's important to ask your doctor what they consider normal.
pregnant women: 1st trimester
10 ng/mL–44 ng/mL
pregnant women: 2nd trimester
19.5 ng/mL–82.5 ng/mL
pregnant women: 3rd trimester
65 ng/mL–290 ng/mL
non-pregnant women: 1–14 days of the menstrual cycle
non-pregnant women: 15–28 days of the menstrual cycle
2 ng/mL–25 ng/mL
What Does It Mean If I Have High Progesterone Levels?
So, what does it mean if your test results turn out to be above what is considered normal?
- You could be pregnant.
- If pregnancy is ruled out, further testing may be done for suspected cancer of the ovaries or cancer of the adrenal glands.
- Another possibility is that you are suffering from a molar pregnancy or carrying a hydatidiform mole.
- On the other hand, your adrenal glands may simply be overly productive.
To confirm any of these suspicions, further testing is necessary.
There are also certain factors that can influence the results of your tests. These include the use of birth control pills and the intake of medications such as ampicillin prior to the test. Note also that progesterone levels tend to naturally fluctuate during the day. This means the time that the test was conducted may affect the results as well. Another factor that can affect the test is when you took it while you're having your period.
Men and Progesterone Levels
Even men are susceptible to increased production of progesterone. Similar to women, the levels of progesterone in men tend to drop drastically as they age. In this case, the level of testosterone also plummets. Sometimes doctors will order a progesterone supplement as a treatment for hormonal imbalances in men. Progesterone therapy in men helps prevent the occurrence of prostate cancer. It may also be prescribed to treat infertility in males. Prescribed progesterone may come in the form of oral pills or in the form of topical creams.
What Happens When Males Reflect an Abnormal Increase In Progesterone Levels?
Similar to women, one of the symptoms experienced by men with high levels of progesterone is fatigue. Men may also suffer from depression. At the same time, elevated progesterone levels subsequently lead to a rise in estrogen production. When this happens, the risk of developing some cardiac conditions can occur. Likewise, men with extremely elevated progesterone levels are likely to suffer from inflammation of the prostate, problems with the urinary tract, and erectile dysfunction.
When left uncorrected, males who are experiencing elevated levels of progesterone for prolonged periods may experience complications. They may end up developing layers of abdominal fat which are associated with a greater risk for heart disease. Some men report noticing a decrease in facial hair growth. Meanwhile, others "grow busts". That is, fatty deposits accumulate around their nipples.
How to Manage High Levels of Progesterone
Living with symptoms indicative of the overproduction of progesterone isn't easy. However, the symptoms can be managed through therapy and lifestyle modifications.
Adjust Your Lifestyle
To reduce the effects of the symptoms associated with increased progesterone levels, you'll need to ensure that you eat a healthy and balanced diet. Pair this with regular exercise. Avoid leading a sedentary lifestyle. At the same time, avoid overexposure to stressful situations. Learn stress-reducing techniques such as deep-breathing exercises, yoga, and meditation.
Change Your Diet
Research reveals that consuming foods which stabilize estrogen levels help in correcting progesterone imbalances. Such foods include fruits like apples and cherries. Also, increase your consumption of potatoes, yams, soy, rice, wheat, and alfalfa.
Try Herbal Remedies
There are some helpful herbs that can help decrease the symptoms associated with high progesterone levels. They are categorized into phytoestrogenic and non-estrogenic.
An example of a phytoestrogenic herb is black cohosh. It works its magic by introducing plant-based estrogenic compounds into your system. Meanwhile, Macafem is an example of a non-estrogenic herb. It works by nourishing the endocrine glands which produce the hormones.
Ask Your Doctor About Hormone Replacement Therapy
Hormone replacement therapy lessens too much progesterone symptoms by using pharmaceuticals to correct the imbalance. When consulting with your physician about this therapy, be sure to ask about the dangers associated with HTR. HTR is known to increase the risk of cancer in women as well as heart illnesses and cerebrovascular accidents in both genders.
HTR with progesterone is contraindicated to individuals with arterial disease, women with breast cancer, those who are suffering from depression, people with liver impairments, and females who have had undiagnosed bleeding in the reproductive area.
Now, you've got all the important information you need about increased progesterone levels, its symptoms, its diagnosis, and its management.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.