What is a Hormonal Imbalance?
Hormones are the primary chemical messengers of your body, and they are produced in the endocrine glands. Hormones travel through your bloodstream and are responsible for telling your organs and tissues what they have to do. They help control many of the major processes in the body. Processes such as reproduction and metabolism are all controlled by hormones. So when you have a hormonal imbalance, the tiniest change sin, the levels of your hormones can have some severe effects throughout your entire body.
Hormonal imbalances mean that you either have too much or too little of a particular hormone. While some amount of hormonal fluctuations happen throughout your life, or even as a result of aging, other hormonal changes can occur when something goes wrong in the functioning of your endocrine glands.(1)
How To Know You Have A Hormonal Imbalance?
Your hormones have a critical role to play in your overall health. Due to this, there is a wide range of symptoms that can indicate you have a hormonal imbalance. The symptoms of hormonal imbalance depend primarily on which glands or hormones are not working correctly.
Some of the common hormonal conditions that affect both men and women could also cause any of the following symptoms:
- Weight gain
- Dry skin
- Increased sensitivity to heat or cold
- More frequent bowel movements
- Puffy face
- Muscle weakness
- Unexplained weight loss (sometimes it can be very sudden)
- Increased or decreased heart rate
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Increased hunger
- Muscle stiffness or muscle tenderness
- Muscle aches
- Thinning of hair
- Fine, brittle hair
- Pain, swelling, or stiffness in joints
- Blurred vision
- Decreased sex drive or libido
- Irritability or mood swings
- Rounded face
- Pink or purple stretch marks
- Fatty hump located between the shoulders
In women, there might be a set of different symptoms that may indicate that you have a hormonal imbalance. The most commonly observed symptoms of hormonal imbalance are polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)(2)
You might notice that there are changes in your normal hormonal cycle, and these will be reflected during:
Symptoms of Hormonal Imbalance That Are Specific Only To Women Include:
- Irregular or heavy periods also includes stopped periods, missed periods, or frequent periods
- Growth of acne on the face, upper back, or chest
- Hirsutism, or growth of excessive hair on the chin, face, and other parts of the body
- Weight gain or trouble losing weight
- Skin tags
- Vaginal dryness
- Darkening of the skin, especially underneath the breasts, in the groin, and along the neck creases
- Pain during sex
- Vaginal atrophy
- Night sweat
Similarly, there are certain symptoms of hormonal imbalance that are specific to men only. In men, the primary hormone that plays a vital role in male development is testosterone. If you are not manufacturing enough testosterone, then it can cause many symptoms of hormonal imbalance. In an adult male, the symptoms of hormonal imbalance may include:
- Erectile dysfunction
- Breast tenderness
- Development of breast tissue
- Decreased sex drive or libido
- Loss of muscle mass
- Osteoporosis or the loss of bone mass
- A decrease in body hair and beard growth
- Difficulty concentrating
- Hot flashes
Symptoms hormonal imbalance may even become apparent in childhood itself. Puberty is the main period during which both boys and girls start to produce sex hormones. Many children who experience delayed onset of puberty go on to have normal puberty, but some children might have a condition known as hypogonadism. Hypogonadism is marked by the following symptoms:
Symptoms of Hormonal Imbalance in Boys:
- Gynecomastia, or the development of breast tissue
- Body hair starts growing sparsely
- Muscle mass does not develop
- Voice does not deepen
- You will notice an excessive growth of the arms and legs in relation to the trunk of the body
- Impaired growth of penis and testicles
Symptoms of Hormonal Imbalance in Girls:
- Periods do not begin
- Body’s growth rate does not increase
- Breast tissue does not develop properly
What are the Causes of Hormonal Imbalance?
There can be many potential causes for a hormonal imbalance. Causes vary depending on which glands or hormones in the body are affected. Some of the leading causes of hormonal imbalance include:(3)
- Hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid
- Hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid
- Cushing syndrome
- Hormone therapy
- Eating disorders
- Tumors (could be cancerous or benign)
- Congenital adrenal hyperplasia
- Adrenal insufficiency
- Trauma or injury
- Pituitary tumor
- Cancer treatments
There are many causes of hormonal imbalance that remain specific only to women and are related to reproductive hormones. Some of these common causes unique to women include:(4)
- Menopause or perimenopause
- Primary ovarian insufficiency
- Premature menopause
- Hormonal drugs such as birth control pills
How to Diagnose Hormonal Imbalance?
There is no one test that is available for doctors to easily diagnose a hormonal imbalance. If you doubt that you might be having a hormonal imbalance, then you need to, first of all, make an appointment with a doctor to undergo a physical exam. You should be prepared that your doctor will ask you various questions about your symptoms and also the timeline along which you have experienced them. Also bring a list of all medications, supplements, and vitamins that you are presently taking.
Depending on your symptoms, your doctor is likely to recommend that you undergo certain diagnostic tests. These may include:
Blood test: Your blood sample will be sent to a lab for testing as most hormones are easily detected in the blood. Your doctor can use the results of your blood test to check the levels of cortisol, thyroid, estrogen, and even testosterone.
Pelvic exam: In females, doctors are likely to perform a pap smear to check for any cysts, unusual lumps, or tumors. If you are a male, then your doctor might check your scrotum for any abnormalities or presence of lumps.
Ultrasound: an ultrasound might be performed to get images of the ovaries, testicles, uterus, thyroid, or the pituitary gland.
In some cases, more advanced tests might also be required. These can include:
What is the Treatment for Hormonal Imbalance?
There are many treatment options for a hormonal imbalance. The treatment depends on the underlying cause of the imbalance. Some of the commonly prescribed treatment options include:
Estrogen Therapy: If you are experiencing hormonal imbalance due to the symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes, then your doctor is likely to recommend that you take a low dose of estrogen. However, there are many risks associated with hormone replacement therapy, so be sure to discuss all the risks and benefits with your doctor before making a decision.
Vaginal Estrogen Therapy: If you have been experiencing vaginal pain or dryness during intercourse, then your doctor will prescribe an estrogen cream, ring, or tablet. This type of local therapy avoids many of the risks that are linked with systemic estrogen or estrogen replacement therapy in which the estrogen travels through the blood to reach the appropriate organ.
Hormonal Birth Control: If you are trying to become pregnant, then hormonal birth control will help in first controlling your menstrual cycles. Some types of hormonal birth control that are prescribed include:
- Vaginal ring
- Birth control pill
- Birth control shot
- Birth control patch
- Intrauterine device (IUD)
Using hormonal birth control will also help in reducing excessive body hair and also improve your acne.
Anti-androgen Medications: Androgens are a term used to refer to male sex hormones that are present in both men and women. While in women, androgens are present at lower levels as compared to men, but a hormonal imbalance can cause some women to have high androgen levels. They will need to take medication to block the effects of high androgen level. These effects may include:
- Excessive hair growth on the face and other body parts
- Hair loss
Metformin: Metformin is typically a medication for type 2 diabetes, but doctors also prescribe it for helping women with PCOS symptoms. However, the metformin is not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of PCOS, but it is known to help lower androgen levels and also boost the chances of ovulation.
Testosterone Supplements: Treating hormonal imbalance with testosterone supplements can help reduce the severity of symptoms of low testosterone in men. In adolescents who are experiencing delayed puberty, these supplements can stimulate the onset of puberty. Testosterone supplements are available in the form of a gel, patch, and injectable.
Thyroid Hormone Therapy: In people who have hypothyroidism, treatment will focus on bringing back the thyroid hormone back into balance. In order to do this, the synthetic thyroid hormone levothyroxine (available under the brand names of Levothroid, Synthroid, Unithroid, and Levoxyl) will help balance the thyroid levels in the body.
Eflornithine (Vaniqa): This is a prescription cream that has been designed for treating excessive growth of facial hair in women. When the cream is applied topically to the skin, it helps slow down the growth of new hair, but it does not get rid of the already existing hair.
Flibanserin (Addyi): This is the only medication that has been approved by the FDA for treating low libido in premenopausal women. However, this medication is known to have some severe side effects so you should discuss with your doctor before starting this medication.
There are also many nutritional supplements that claim to treat hormone imbalance. Natural remedies and supplements can also help address hormonal imbalance, but there is a lack of substantial research that backs up these claims.(5)
Your hormones are responsible for regulating many of the major processes in the body. When hormones fall out of balance, you will experience many different symptoms. Hormonal imbalance is known to cause a wide variety of serious complications, due to which it is essential that you get an early diagnosis and start treatment at the earliest.
- Ranabir, S. and Reetu, K., 2011. Stress and hormones. Indian journal of endocrinology and metabolism, 15(1), p.18.
- womenshealth.gov. (2019). Polycystic ovary syndrome | Womenshealth.gov. [online] Available at: https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/polycystic-ovary-syndrome [Accessed 15 Jun. 2019].
- Memorialcare.org. (2019). These Are the Causes of Hormonal Imbalance & How to Treat Them | MemorialCare Health System | Orange County | Los Angeles County. [online] Available at: https://www.memorialcare.org/about/pressroom/media/these-are-causes-hormonal-imbalance-how-treat-them-2018-06-22 [Accessed 15 Jun. 2019].
- Jung, B.H., Jeon, M.J. and Bai, S.W., 2008. Hormone-dependent aging problems in women. Yonsei medical journal, 49(3), pp.345-351.
- Netdoctor. (2019). How to balance your hormones. [online] Available at: https://www.netdoctor.co.uk/healthy-living/a24469801/hormone-balance/ [Accessed 15 Jun. 2019].