In males and females, estrogen is an important hormone. High levels of estrogen can cause a variety of symptoms and may increase the risk of developing certain medical conditions.
In this article, we begin by looking at what estrogen is. We then describe how levels become high, the symptoms and possible complications, and how a doctor diagnoses and treats high estrogen levels.
Estrogen is the main female sex hormone, but it is present in everyone. Females tend to have higher levels of estrogen, while males have more testosterone, which is the main male sex hormone.
In females, estrogen plays a role in the menstrual cycle and reproductive system. In males, it is important for sexual function.
Males and females can develop high levels of estrogen, which can affect overall health and sexual development and function.
Having excess estrogen can affect males and females differently and may cause a variety of symptoms.
High levels of estrogen can lead to weight gain, particularly around the hips and waist. Excess estrogen can also cause menstrual problems, such as:
- irregular periods
- light spotting
- heavy bleeding
- more severe symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, or PMS
Females with high estrogen can experience other symptoms, including:
- cold hands and feet
- difficulty sleeping
- hair loss
- low sex drive
- mood changes, depression, or anxiety
- problems with memory
- swollen or tender breasts
- noncancerous breast lumps
- uterine fibroids, which are noncancerous growths that develop on, in, or around the uterus
In males, symptoms of high estrogen can include:
Having high estrogen can increase the risk of developing certain health problems, including:
Some research suggests that men with high estrogen levels may experience depression.
A 2018 study involving 4,000 adult male participants found an association between increased levels of estradiol and symptoms of depression in younger men. Estradiol is a form of estrogen.
Males and females can develop hormonal imbalances.
The body may only produce high levels of estrogen, or it may produce high levels of estrogen and low levels of another hormone, such as testosterone or progesterone.
Estrogen levels can also rise in response to medications. For example, people taking estrogen replacement therapy, a treatment for menopause symptoms, may experience adverse effects of high estrogen.
Other medications that can increase estrogen levels include:
- hormonal contraceptives
- certain antibiotics
- some herbal or natural remedies
- phenothiazines, which doctors use to treat some mental or emotional disorders
High estrogen can run in families. Also, certain health problems can cause estrogen levels to rise, including:
- ovarian tumors
- liver disease
Estrogen levels vary among individuals and according to a person's age and sex. These levels also fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle.
A doctor can check estrogen levels with a blood test. There are three forms of estrogen in the blood:
Doctors measure these levels in picograms per milliliter (pg/ml).
Estradiol is the primary form of estrogen, while estriol and estrone are minor forms. Women who are not pregnant have very low levels of estriol.
According to Mayo Medical Laboratories, the following are normal blood levels of estradiol in females:
- children and adolescents: up to 350 pg/ml
- adults: 15–350 pg/ml
- postmenopausal adults: less than 10 pg/ml
Typical blood levels of estrone in females are:
- children and adolescents: up to 200 pg/ml
- adults: 17–200 pg/ml
- postmenopausal adults: 7–40 pg/ml
According to Mayo Medical Laboratories, the following are normal blood levels of estradiol in males:
- children and adolescents: up to 40 pg/ml
- adults: 10–40 pg/ml
Typical blood levels of estrone in males are:
- children and adolescents: up to 60 pg/ml
- adults: 10–60 pg/ml
Eating certain foods may reduce the body's levels of estrogen, including:
- cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale
- red grapes
- whole grains
Also, losing weight may decrease estrogen levels in people who are overweight or obese. This is because fat cells produce extra estrogen.
If medication is causing high estrogen levels, a doctor may recommend a lower dose or an alternative treatment.
If hormone replacement therapy is causing high estrogen symptoms, speak to the doctor, who may need to change the treatment plan.
Doctors can also prescribe medications that lower estrogen levels.
In females with a very high risk of breast or ovarian cancer, a doctor may recommend surgery to remove the ovaries. The aim is to reduce the amount of estrogen that the body produces. The operation is called an oophorectomy, and some people refer to it as surgical menopause.
Estrogen is the primary female sex hormone, but it is present in both males and females. High estrogen levels can cause a range symptoms and may increase the risk of certain health problems, including breast and ovarian cancer.
Anyone experiencing symptoms of high estrogen should see a doctor for an examination and blood tests. The doctor can determine whether a hormonal imbalance is at the root of the symptoms.