Progesterone is a key sex hormone that plays a crucial role in the female cycle and fertility. This important hormone is released by the corpus luteum in the ovary during the second half of the menstrual cycle. There is also a connection between progesterone and menopause. When women transition to menopause, progesterone levels decline along with estrogen. A decrease in progesterone in menopause has been associated with some common symptoms in menopause including headaches and migraines, and low libido.
What does progesterone do?
Progesterone is responsible for regulating your menstrual cycle and maintaining pregnancy. One of its most important roles is to prepare the uterus for pregnancy by thickening your uterine lining for a fertilized egg to implant and grow. If a fertilized egg does not implant into the uterine lining, progesterone levels fall and you shed your uterine lining when you have a period. If an egg is fertilized and successfully implants in the uterine wall, progesterone will maintain the uterine lining until delivery. Progesterone also helps regulate changes in your breasts and breastfeeding.
What is the relationship between estrogen and progesterone?
Estrogen and progesterone are both produced by the ovaries. Their production is controlled by signals released by the hypothalamus in your brain. Both hormones play a pivotal role in preparing the uterus for pregnancy and menstruation. If you become pregnant, progesterone and estrogen levels increase to maintain the pregnancy, prepare the breasts, and signal your brain to release oxytocin to prepare your body for delivery. As you approach menopause, both estrogen and progesterone levels fall.
What causes progesterone levels to be low?
When you reach menopause, progesterone levels decrease gradually because your ovarian function begins to decline. When your body no longer has progesterone levels that are normal, (that is, they are not as cyclical), you begin to see changes in your body, especially in your periods. Indeed, one of the first signs of perimenopause is irregular periods. Decreasing levels of progesterone contribute to irregular menstrual periods. This is because your endometrium (or the lining of your uterus) is no longer building up for pregnancy as it did when progesterone levels were high during the second part of your menstrual cycle.
What are normal progesterone levels, you might ask? It depends on where you are in your cycle, and in life! The following are “normal” levels of progesterone:
Postmenopausal women, women at the beginning of their cycle, and men (Yes, even men have progesterone too! It helps with sperm production and is released by the adrenal glands and testes.) → Below or equal to 1ng/mL
Women in the middle of their menstrual cycle → 5 to 20ng/mL
First trimester of pregnancy → 11.2 to 90ng/mL
Second trimester of pregnancy → 25.6 to 89.4ng/mL
Third trimester of pregnancy → 48.4 to 42.5ng/mL
(It is important to note that some levels can differ based on what laboratory is used to evaluate your blood work.)
Your doctor may order a serum progesterone test if you are having difficulties conceiving, trying to identify if you are in peri/menopause, and to rule out certain medical conditions. For example, high levels of progesterone in the absence of pregnancy can be related to ovarian and adrenal cancers.
Although low progesterone levels are a part of menopause, testing progesterone in perimenopause or menopause is not too revealing when it comes to making a diagnosis of menopause. If your doctor orders blood work, it is more likely that your FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) levels will be tested. Indeed, progesterone levels fluctuate throughout each day and it can be hard to capture an overall picture of whether or not your levels are permanently declining. Therefore, your doctor will likely rely on tracking your symptoms as opposed to looking at progesterone menopause levels.
Low Progesterone Symptoms
Missed or late periods
Breast tenderness, or fibrocystic breast tissue
Spotting during pregnancy
Age-related changes to your cycle (hello, perimenopause)
Hot flashes and night sweats
Depression and mood swings
Vaginal dryness and atrophy
How does progesterone help menopause?
You may be aware that progesterone replacement is a form of hormone replacement therapy for treating low progesterone symptoms in menopause. And indeed, progesterone replacement in topical form, combination form with estrogen, and progesterone alone have been effective in treating frustrating symptoms of menopause. But can progesterone help perimenopause as well? Indeed, it can help some women!
To learn how other women are using natural progesterone cream in perimenopause, join our Perry community of incredible babes who connect with sharing tips and tricks on thriving during perimenopause. Experts will even answer your most burning questions about perimenopause, menopause, and just being a woman. We can’t wait to see you here!
Disclaimer: This is not medical advice, does not take the place of medical advice from your physician, and is not intended to treat or cure any disease. Patients should see a qualified medical provider for assessment and treatment.
Meet The Author
Perry Babe Julia ( RN, BSN, BA) is a registered nurse based in Colorado. Julia's nursing background in women’s health has ranged from neonatal and postpartum care, to labor and delivery, to outpatient gynecological medicine for both adolescent and adult populations.
Much of her education and clinical experience is related to educating women on women’s health topics ranging from lifestyle improvements, disease management, and general health education.
Find Julia's Perry community profile right here.