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Estrogen

General Instructions

An estrogen blood test does not require any type of special preparation.  Patients should, however, inform their doctors if they are menstruating at the time of the test or believe that they might be pregnant, and should report what type of birth control, if any, they are using.  All of these factors can affect test results.  Some estrogen levels change throughout the day, with levels being higher in the morning.  A doctor may order the test for a specific time of day, depending on the reason that the test is being ordered. 

Why It Is Used

There are a number of different reasons that a doctor may order an estrogen blood test.  There are three main types of estrogen hormones that all serve different functions.  The three main types of estrogen are estradiol, estriol, and estrone.  Estrogen blood tests measure these different estrogen hormones to determine if there may be a hormone imbalance.  The type of estrogen hormone that is either too high or too low can help point doctors in the direction in which the problem is originating. 

How It Works

Estradiol is important in regulating the female menstrual cycle and is used in the production of menstrual tissue.  Estradiol levels are normally higher at the beginning of the menstrual cycle and lower at the end of the menstrual cycle.  Once a woman has experienced menopause, the level of estradiol in her blood greatly decreases.  Estradiol is present in both males and females (though much higher levels are seen in females) and is found in almost all mammals and fish that have a backbone. 

Estriol is only seen in the blood in large amounts during pregnancy.  When a woman is not pregnant she will have levels of estriol in her blood that are very similar to the levels of estriol in the blood of males or women after menopause.  During pregnancy the placenta produces estriol, and levels continue to rise until the end of the pregnancy.

Estrone levels are lower than estradiol and estriol levels in fertile women.  Estrone is at its highest level during pregnancy and is thought to be the cause of breast tenderness, nausea, and painful muscle cramping in women.  Men also produce estrone.  Abnormally high levels of estrone in men has been linked to anorexia nervosa, vomiting, and erectile dysfunction.  In women who are post-menopausal, estrone is the most prevalent estrogen hormone. 

Results

Abnormally high or low levels of estradiol in women may help to explain menstrual abnormalities - such as overly frequent or infrequent menstrual cycles.  Abnormally high levels of estradiol in men may cause them to develop more feminine features like enlarged breasts or more fat around the hips.  Anytime estriol levels are high - for men or for women who are not pregnant, it is a cause for concern because it indicates that the body believes that it is pregnant and is preparing itself accordingly.  When one is not pregnant and has high levels of estrone in the blood, it could be a sign of ovarian cancer in women or testicular cancer in men. 

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