Hormonal imbalances take place in the body when there is either too much or too little of a particular hormone present in the bloodstream. Hormones have a very important role to play in the body and even the tiniest bit of imbalance can cause many types of negative effects on the body. Produced by the glands of the endocrine system, hormones are the chemical messengers of the body. Hormones travel through the blood and let the organs and tissues know what they are supposed to be doing.
Hormones are also responsible for controlling many processes in the body, such as reproduction and metabolism. So, what happens when there is a hormonal imbalance in the body and how to treat it?
What is a Hormonal Imbalance?
A hormonal imbalance happens when there is either too much or too little of a particular hormone in the body. As mentioned above, hormones are the chemical messengers of the body and are produced by the endocrine glands (1). Hormones travel through the blood and instruct the various organs and tissues on what they are supposed to be doing (1). Hormones also control many processes in the body, such as reproduction and metabolism (1).
When there is a hormonal imbalance in the body, it can have a major impact on the whole body. Too much or too little of any one hormone can affect the whole body and when there is a fluctuation in the levels of certain hormones, there are serious side effects. While there are some natural hormonal fluctuations that happen over a person’s life and is often a result of normal aging, there are other changes in hormonal levels that happen when there is some issue with the endocrine glands.
What are the Symptoms of a Hormonal Imbalance?
Hormones have an important role to play in your overall health. Due to their widespread role, there is a wide range of symptoms that signal a hormonal imbalance. Some of the symptoms also depend on which glands or hormones of the body are not functioning properly.
Some of the common symptoms of hormonal imbalance that affects both men and women include (2):
- Weight gain.
- Dry skin.
- Puffy or rounded face.
- Increased sensitivity to heat or cold.
- Muscle weakness.
- Muscle aches, stiffness and tenderness.
- Frequent urination.
- Constipation or having frequent bowel movements.
- Unexplained weight gain or weight loss that happens suddenly.
- Increased thirst.
- Decreased heart rate.
- Thinning hair or brittle and fine hair.
- Pain and stiffness in joints.
- Swelling in joints.
- Increased hunger.
- Excessive sweating.
- Lack of desire to have sex.
- Nervousness or irritability.
- Blurry vision.
- Presence of a fatty hump between the shoulders.
- Pink or purple stretch marks.
Symptoms of Hormonal Imbalance That Are Specific To Women
While these above-mentioned symptoms of hormonal imbalance are common in both the genders, there are certain symptoms that are common only in women, since the most common hormonal imbalance in women is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). As it is in women, the normal hormonal cycle changes naturally during the following situations: puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause.
Due to this, some of the symptoms of a hormonal imbalance that are specific only to women include (3):
- Painful intercourse.
- Thinning hair or hair loss.
- Heavy or irregular periods – this may also include stopped periods, missed periods or frequent periods.
- Vaginal dryness.
- Vaginal atrophy.
- Acne on the chest, face and upper back.
- Hirsutism, a condition that causes excessive hair on the face, chin or any other parts of the body.
- Weight gain.
- Trouble losing weight.
- Skin tags.
- Darkening of the skin, especially in the groin, under the breasts and along the neck creases.
- Night sweats.
Symptoms of Hormonal Imbalance That Are Specific To Men
In a similar manner, there are certain symptoms of a hormonal imbalance that are specific to men also. In men, the hormone testosterone plays a major role in the development of the male reproductive organs (4). When you do not produce sufficient levels of testosterone, it causes several types of symptoms in an adult male, which include:
- Breast tenderness.
- Development of breast tissue, a condition also known as gynecomastia.
- Erectile dysfunction.
- Loss of interest in sexual activities.
- Loss of muscle mass.
- Hot flashes.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Decrease in body hair and beard growth.
Symptoms of Hormonal Imbalance in Children
Apart from men and women, hormonal imbalance can also affect children. During the time of puberty, the bodies of both boys and girls start manufacturing sex hormones. In children who experience delayed puberty, will eventually go on to experience normal puberty, but some may be suffering from a condition known as hypogonadism. Hypogonadism is a condition that occurs when the sex glands produce either too little or no sex hormones. These sex glands are known as gonads and are referred to as the ovaries in women and the testes in men. Hypogonadism is also referred to as gonad deficiency. Some of the symptoms of hypogonadism include:
- Voice does not deepen.
- No development of muscle mass.
- Sparse growth of body hair.
- Impaired growth of penis and testes.
- Excessive growth of the legs and arms as compared to the trunk of the body.
- Development of breast tissue, a condition also known as gynecomastia.
- Growth rate does not increase.
- Periods do not begin.
- Breast tissue does not develop.
What are the Causes of a Hormonal Imbalance?
There are believed to be many causes of a hormonal imbalance. The causes of hormonal imbalance differ based on which glands or hormones are affected by the imbalance. Some of the common causes of hormonal imbalance include (3):
- Hypothyroidism, meaning an underactive thyroid.
- Hyperthyroidism, meaning an overactive thyroid.
- Cushing syndrome.
- Hormone therapy.
- Eating disorders.
- Tumors, regardless of whether they are cancerous or benign.
- Hyper-functioning thyroid nodules.
- Cancer treatments.
- Injury or trauma.
- Adrenal insufficiency.
- Pituitary tumor.
Causes of a Hormonal Imbalance in Women
There are many causes of hormonal imbalance that are specific only to women as they are related to reproductive hormones. These include: PCOS, pregnancy, menopause, breastfeeding, primary ovarian insufficiency, premature menopause and intake of hormone drugs such as birth control pills (3).
How Does Hormonal Imbalance Get Diagnosed?
There is no one test that is used for diagnosing a hormonal imbalance. Depending on the symptoms, doctors suggest the following diagnostic tests:
Blood Test: To begin with, your doctor will have a blood test done as most hormones can easily be detected in the blood. The blood test will check your estrogen, thyroid, testosterone and cortisol levels.
Pelvic Exam: In females, the doctor may carry out a pap smear to detect any unusual cysts, lumps or tumors. In males, the doctor checks the scrotum for abnormalities or lumps.
Ultrasound: An ultrasound is recommended for getting images of the thyroid gland, pituitary gland, uterus, ovaries and the testicles.
Other Tests: Some other tests may also be required for diagnosing hormonal imbalance and these are: sperm count, x-ray, biopsy, MRI and thyroid scan.
How Can Hormonal Imbalance Be Treated?
Treatment for a hormonal imbalance depends on the cause. Some of the common treatment options for hormonal imbalance include:
Estrogen Therapy: Estrogen therapy is a commonly used treatment for treating hormonal imbalance in women. If you are experiencing discomfort due to menopause, such as hot flashes, then your doctor may prescribe a low dose of estrogen for some time. Known as hormone replacement therapy, there could be some side effects associated with estrogen therapy and you should discuss the same with your doctor before moving ahead.
Hormonal Birth Control: If you are trying to conceive or if you are experiencing irregular menstrual cycles, then taking hormonal birth control will help regulate the menstrual cycle and also help you get pregnant once your cycles become regular. Using hormonal birth control also helps improve acne and also decreases the appearance of extra hair on the face and the body. There are many types of hormonal birth control, such as: birth control pill, vaginal ring, intrauterine device (IUD), birth control patch and birth control shot (3).
Vaginal Estrogen: For women who experience pain during intercourse or vaginal dryness, then applying an estrogen cream, ring, or tablet may help. This is a localized therapy for hormonal imbalance and it avoids many of the side effects that are commonly linked with estrogen or systemic estrogen when it travels through the blood (3).
Metformin: Metformin is a commonly used medication for that is prescribed to people suffering from type 2 diabetes and its associated hormonal imbalance. Metformin has been shown to help women who have PCOS symptoms. While the medication is not approved for the treatment of PCOS, but it has been found helpful in lowering androgen levels and also known to encourage the process of ovulation (3).
Anti-Androgen Drugs: Androgens are the male sex hormones that both women and men have. When the levels of androgen increase in women, they may opt for taking medications that block the impact of androgens on the body such as hair loss, growth of excessive facial hair and acne (3).
Thyroid Hormone Therapy: People who are suffering from hypothyroidism, a synthetic version of the thyroid hormone levothyroxine (available under the brand names of Unithroid, Levoxyl, Levothroid, and Synthroid) is helpful in balancing the thyroid levels in the body and treating this hormonal imbalance (3).
Testosterone Therapy: Supplements of testosterone can be helpful in reducing the symptoms of having low testosterone levels in men. Testosterone supplements are available in patch form, gel form, and in an injectable form as well and are helpful in treating hormonal imbalance in men. In adolescent boys who have delayed puberty, these supplements help stimulate the beginning of puberty (3).
Natural Remedies & Supplements To Treat Hormonal Imbalance
There are also many natural remedies and supplements that are available for treating hormonal imbalance. However, most of them are not supported by any scientific evidence.
Some of these supplements are known to contain certain types of plant-derived hormones and are also referred to as ‘bioidentical’ hormones as they resemble the natural hormones of the body chemically. However, there is no evidence that shows that these work better than the regular hormone therapy.
Many people have also found that yoga helps with the symptoms of hormonal imbalance as yoga helps reduce your weight, which is one of the factors that help regulate the hormones.
Apart from these, there are also certain lifestyle changes you can make to get relief from your symptoms of hormonal imbalance. These include:
Eating a Balanced Diet: Consuming a balanced diet is extremely important not just for balancing your hormone levels, but for maintaining good overall health (3).
Weight Loss: Even a ten percent reduction in overall body weight can help women have regular periods and also increases their chances of conceiving. For men, losing weight helps improve the symptom of erectile dysfunction. Losing weight is one of the important natural ways for treating hormonal imbalance (3).
Removing Unwanted Hair: Use hair removal options, such as hair removal creams, electrolysis, and laser hair removal to remove excessive amounts of body or facial hair occurring in women as a result of hormonal imbalance.
Avoid or Manage Hot Flashes: Identify the common triggers of hot flashes, such as hot beverages, spicy foods and warm temperatures (3).
Reduce Vaginal Discomfort: Using moisturizers or lubes that are free of parabens, petroleum and other chemicals can help lower vaginal discomfort occurring as a result of hormonal imbalance.
Hormones are the most important chemical messengers of the body that controls many of the body’s crucial processes. When the body’s hormone levels fall out of balance, you may experience many types of symptoms and side effects. Hormonal imbalance is known to cause many types of serious illnesses and complications, and it is, therefore, very important that if you suspect that you may be suffering from a hormone imbalance, you immediately seek treatment for the same.