Progesterone Benefits and Risks

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on April 23, 2024
4 min read

Progesterone is a hormone that plays a big part in reproduction. It's made mostly in the ovaries, and the level fluctuates with your menstrual period. There is less progesterone after menopause. Adrenal glands and testes also make progesterone. In men and people with testes, progesterone helps make sperm and male hormones.

Progesterone vs. estrogen

Like progesterone, estrogen is a hormone that plays an important role in reproductive health. Estrogen is partly responsible for the development of secondary sex traits such as breasts and hips, menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause.

Progesterone is crucial for pregnancy because it makes the lining of your uterus (called the endometrium) thicker, which helps a fertilized egg develop into a baby. During pregnancy, progesterone levels keep climbing, stopping you from ovulating and stopping early labor. It also prepares your breasts to nurse a baby. If your progesterone levels are low, it might be harder to get pregnant, and you could have a higher chance of miscarriage. If you don't get pregnant, your body sheds the endometrium during your period.

There are many causes of low progesterone, including:

  • Anovulation, or when your ovary doesn’t release an egg
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • High stress
  • Hypothyroidism, a slow or underactive thyroid
  • Hyperprolactinemia, whenyour body makes too much prolactin (the hormone responsible for lactation)
  • Low cholesterol
  • Perimenopause, or the period just before menopause
  • Overexercising
  • Extreme dieting

You can take progesterone in these forms:

  • Pills
  • Injections
  • Intrauterine device (IUD)
  • Vaginal gel
  • Patch applied to the skin
  • Foods that have zinc, vitamin C, vitamin B, and magnesium

Many plants make compounds similar to progesterone which may or may not function like the purified progesterone chemical. The progesterone in creams bought without a prescription is made by processing ingredients from plants, such as yams.

Over-the-counter progesterone cream has been marketed as a treatment for menopausal symptoms, including:

It's also sometimes used by people to try to treat:

Side effects. Progesterone may cause side effects such as:

  • Headache
  • Coughing
  • Fatigue
  • Breast tenderness or pain
  • Throwing up
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Pain in your muscles, bones, or joints

Less common yet serious side effects include:

  • Dizziness
  • Swelling
  • Changes in heart rate
  • Depression
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vision changes

Progesterone allergic reaction

It may also cause symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as:

  • Skin rash or itchy skin
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Tingling in the mouth or throat
  • Trouble breathing
  • Swelling in the hands or face

Progesterone may raise your chances of:

  • Breast cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Heart problems
  • Blood clotting problems
  • Stroke
  • Endometriosis
  • Uterine fibroids

Avoid using this product if you are pregnant unless prescribed by your doctor. Also, avoid it if you have:

  • Allergy or sensitivity to progesterone
  • Liver problems
  • History of cancer of the breast or genitals
  • Bleeding or clotting problems
  • Vaginal bleeding that your doctor has not checked

Use this product with caution if you have:

  • Heart problems
  • Kidney problems
  • Seizures
  • Migraine headaches
  • Asthma
  • Depression

Progesterone drug interactions

Check with your doctor before using if you are on any hormone medicines or getting cancer treatment.

Progesterone may add to the drowsiness caused by certain drugs or herbs, making driving or using heavy machinery unsafe. It may also interact with many other medicines and supplements.

Tell your doctor about any supplements you're taking, even if they're natural. That way, your doctor can check for potential side effects or interactions with medications.

The FDA doesn't regulate supplements in the same way it does food and drugs. It also doesn't review supplements for safety or effectiveness before they're released on the market.

You probably won't have any symptoms of high progesterone levels, although it can sometimes be a sign of ovarian or adrenal cancer.

Low progesterone can affect people who aren't pregnant. Here are some symptoms:

  • Irregular periods

  • Trouble getting pregnant

  • Mood changes

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Hot flashes

Progesterone is available in prescription forms for birth control and hormone replacement therapy, as well as over-the-counter creams for menopausal symptoms. They may cause side effects such as headaches and menstrual changes and raise your odds of conditions like breast cancer and heart problems. It's crucial to avoid progesterone if you're pregnant or have certain medical conditions. Talk to your doctor, especially when taking other medications, as the FDA doesn't regulate supplements like other drugs.