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What is Estradiol?

By Adam Hill
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Estradiol is a sex hormone that is present in both males and females, and is the most important form of estrogen in humans. In women, it plays a key role in the development and functioning of the reproductive system, as well as in the growth of certain bones. It also governs the distribution of body fat in women and is the main hormone responsible for the fact that women are shorter than men, on average. Both the ovaries and the adrenal glands produce it.

The menstrual cycle in women involves predictable variations in the levels of several hormones, with estradiol being one of them. It is involved in the ovulation process and prepares the inner lining of the uterus for implantation, should the egg be fertilized. Certain tests done on baboons and other primates have indicated that his hormone also plays a continual role in maintaining a pregnancy, helping it to last for the full gestation period.

As a sex hormone, it also triggers many of the developments of the reproductive system that begin in puberty. It is present throughout the reproductive years, and declines during and after menopause. This decline is precisely what causes many of the symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes and night sweats, vaginal dryness, and the loss of bone mass that may lead to osteoporosis.

Injections of estradiol are sometimes given to treat symptoms like these. They can also be used to compensate for ovary failure or similar conditions in women, and some forms of it can treat symptoms caused by prostate cancer in men. When given to women, it is necessary for them to use an effective form of birth control, due to the high risk of complications and birth defects that would exist in the event of a pregnancy.

Despite a common belief to the contrary, estrogens are important for male reproductive health and development as well. Estradiol is produced by a certain type of cell in the testes, and evidence suggests that it may be responsible for preventing the spontaneous death of sperm cells. Elevated levels can have negative effects, including a lowered sperm count. Males who have genetic conditions involving the sex chromosomes, such as Klinefelter's Syndrome, often have higher-than-normal levels. While it is primarily a sex hormone, estradiol also has complex interactions with the liver, governing the production of certain proteins, including those responsible for blood clotting.

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Discussion Comments

By anon948417 — On Apr 30, 2014

I have been on Estradiol 1 gram for three years and am very happy with the results. I've not had any side effects. I was having very severe night sweats. I was given a hysterectomy when I was 32 years old, leaving the ovaries, due to cancer. I started getting hot flashes in my late 40s and it went on into my early 50s.

I was so tired of dealing with it, that I finally asked my doctor about an option of taking hormones. I have a different doctor than when I had cervical cancer, he said that it is actually better to take it than not since I had the cervical cancer. I'm pleased to report no hot flashes for three years. It's been a huge relief. I also don't have vaginal dryness and sex is like it was when I was younger. We don't have to use a lubricant anymore. That's refreshing also.

By ddljohn — On Nov 21, 2012

@burcidi-- That's right!

There are medications that block estradiol in the body but it's not right to use them to grow taller. These medications are usually used for breast cancer patients to try and stop the cancer from spreading. High estrogen levels can make cancer spread faster in women.

By SarahGen — On Nov 20, 2012

@seag47-- I don't think estradiol increases the risk pregnancy, it increases the risk of giving birth to a child who has health problems. Medications and hormones affect the growth of the embryo and that is why it is dangerous to take it during pregnancy.

It is not possible to get pregnant in menopause. There may be some exceptions for women who still have their ovaries or who take hormone therapy. But for women who are in complete menopause, it's impossible to get pregnant because the ovaries don't produce eggs any more. Even if fertilization took place, the hormone levels are too low to maintain pregnancy.

By burcidi — On Nov 19, 2012

Is it the higher levels of estradiol that causes women to be shorter than men?

If a girl's estradiol levels were changed with medication, will it make her taller?

By cloudel — On Sep 22, 2012

@seag47 – I think it depends on the stage of menopause that a person is undergoing. I know it's possible to get pregnant during perimenopause, because my grandmother did.

However, I've always heard that once you go a year without a period, you can't get pregnant. Since most women take estradiol hormone therapy to replace what they lost during menopause, they are not likely to get pregnant, because they have already reached the stage past which this is impossible.

By seag47 — On Sep 21, 2012

Could women who receive estradiol during menopause become pregnant? I know that the article says women who are taking it should take birth control, but does it increase the risk of getting pregnant so much that even a menopausal woman could have a baby?

By golf07 — On Jun 02, 2011

Reading the possible estradiol side effects (just like taking any medication) can give you a lot to think about. I know some women who have complained of headache and some dizziness. Another friend I know also had some shortness of breath.

You just need to work closely with your doctor to determine what is going to work best with you. Sometimes you may start out with one thing, but have to switch to something else or monitor your dosage closely.

By Mykol — On May 31, 2011

I have been recommended to start using estradiol and have not made the decision whether I want to start or not. If I begin taking it, I would either go with the estradiol pills or the patch. I just am concerned about the long term side effects of taking this kind of hormone.

I wonder if the symptoms of hot flashes and night sweats are better or worse than any side effects from taking the estradiol. I have heard both pros and cons and suppose everybody reacts differently.

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