Estradiol is one of the most important types of the hormone estrogen and is the main form of the hormone present in pre-menopausal women who are not pregnant. Estradiol plays an essential role in the reproductive systems of both men and women. Women, however, are especially affected by an abnormally low amount of circulating estradiol in their bodies. A lack of sufficient amounts of the hormone can result in a number of characteristic symptoms.
Estradiol is mainly produced by the ovaries. The ovaries are stimulated into production of estradiol by the presence of two other female sex hormones, FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) and LH (luteinizing hormone). In women, estradiol is responsible for the development of a number of secondary sex characteristics, such as the growth of the breasts and body hair. Estradiol is also responsible for regulating a woman's height and maintaining the health and development of the uterus and vagina.
The most common initial problem in women with low estradiol levels are disruptions in the normal menstrual cycle. Women may begin to experience highly irregular cycles or their cycles may stop altogether. Women under the age of 40 may suffer from early menopause and experience all the normal menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes, vaginal dryness and episodes of night sweats. If the estradiol deficiency occurs in young women who have not begun their menstrual cycle, their menstruation and development of the secondary sex characteristics may be severely delayed.
Since the production of estradiol is closely linked to the proper development and maintenance of the female sex organs, sexual problems are another common symptom of low estradiol. A woman with decreased estradiol may suffer from a severely decreased sexual drive and may have difficulty with pain during intercourse due to vaginal dryness. Low estradiol is also linked to fertility problems and an inability to conceive.
Low estradiol can cause a number of neurological and physical problems. Women with decreased amounts of the hormone often suffer from unexplained fatigue, difficulty sleeping, depression and severe mood swings. Since estradiol also plays a role in increasing the density of bone in women, low amounts of estradiol can result in the early onset of osteoporosis.
Causes and treatment
Normal estradiol production can be disrupted by a number of factors, including certain genetic conditions, excessive exercise, extremely low levels of body fat and eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia. Low estradiol in young women is normally treated by the administration of estrogen-containing medications.