Hormonal imbalance is a common issue in modern life. Hormones are the chemical messengers that tell our bodies how to function in order to maintain a balanced state. Lots of organs in the body produce hormones and the different hormonal systems all talk to each other. These hormones functioning in a balanced way is vital to health and wellbeing. You might have heard of hormones such as oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone, thyroid hormone, cortisol (sometimes called the stress hormone), adrenaline (the “fight or flight hormone) and insulin. These (and all the other hormones in the body) have different, interrelated functions to keep our bodies working normally. If these hormones become imbalanced (your body is producing too much or too little), you might notice changes or symptoms in your body. Today we will discuss the main signs of hormonal imbalance.
What causes hormone imbalance?
There are many causes of hormonal imbalance. Some are well-known conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), thyroid disorders, adrenal disorders or diabetes.
Medications can also cause hormonal imbalance, especially medications that contain hormones. It is important to note that some hormonal medications are used to TREAT hormonal imbalance, though. Just because you are taking a medication containing hormones doesn’t mean it is causing your problems. Also, everyone is different. Some people might have side effects from a particular medication while others don’t.
Other causes of hormonal imbalances include stress, eating disorders or tumours (these might be cancer or they might be benign).
A quick note on hormonal contraception:
Hormonal contraception gets a bad reputation on the internet for causing hormonal imbalance. It is true that it isn’t right for everyone, some women get bad side effects from hormonal contraception. But some women don’t. Some women like it because it stops them from getting pregnant and they feel fine. Or their skin improves, or their mood stabilises. Everyone is different.
When people criticise hormonal contraception for causing hormonal imbalance and “turning your ovaries off”, they are forgetting that is the whole point. Hormonal contraception does turn your ovaries off. That’s how it prevents you from getting pregnant. Not everyone wants to take hormonal contraception and that is totally up to you. I just don’t want you to think that hormonal contraception is definitely bad because it “turns your ovaries off”. It is completely up to you whether you want to use contraception and which one you use. If you need more information, this article might help you.
What are the signs of hormonal imbalance?
Hormonal imbalance can cause a lot of different symptoms. This makes sense when you think about how important hormones are for keeping our bodies functioning normally.
Many of these symptoms of hormonal imbalance can occur in people of all genders, and they include:
- Weight changes
- Changes in where your body fat is located
- A “hump” of fat developing at the back of the neck or between the shoulders
- Puffy/round face
- Tiredness or fatigue
- Muscle weakness, pain or stiffness
- Joint pain, swelling or stiffness
- Bowel issues such as constipation or diarrhoea
- Mood changes
- Hair loss
- Skin changes
- Increased acne
- Stretch marks
- Darkening of the skin (especially increases such as the neck or groin)
- Difficulty sleeping
- Increased or decreased heart rate
- Difficulty concentrating
Hormonal imbalance in women
There are some hormonal imbalances that are specific to women, including PCOS and hormonal imbalances associated with the menstrual cycle and ovulation.
As well as all the things listed above, specific signs of hormonal imbalance in women might include:
- Changes to your period
- Your period might become heavy or irregular or might stop completely
- Excessive hair on your face or body
- Difficulty with sex
- Vaginal dryness
- Pain with sex
- Loss of libido
When is “hormonal imbalance” normal?
There are some periods in your life when it is normal that your hormones are changing, and you might feel a bit “unbalanced”. These include puberty, pregnancy, menopause or breastfeeding. While these are technically times of “hormonal imbalance”, this is normal.
The symptoms caused by the hormonal changes in menopause can be helped with medicines if required. Unfortunately, a lot of the symptoms of pregnancy, breastfeeding or puberty usually just need to be managed.
What should I do if I am worried about my hormones?
The first thing to do would be to talk to your doctor. Your doctor should ask you what symptoms you have been experiencing and do an examination to check for signs of hormonal imbalance. You might need blood tests to check your hormone levels.
Your GP might refer you to an endocrinologist (a doctor that specialises in hormones) if they think it is appropriate or you can seek out advice from an endocrinologist privately.
How can hormonal imbalance be treated?
This depends on what is causing it.
Simple techniques such as stress management might help if the cause of the hormonal imbalance is stress.
For some hormonal imbalances (e.g. PCOS or type 2 diabetes) modifying your lifestyle can help. Increasing your exercise, stopping smoking, getting enough sleep and reducing your alcohol intake might help. These conditions often need medication as well as lifestyle changes. Other hormonal imbalances should be treated, such as type 1 diabetes, thyroid disorders or adrenal disorders. These almost always require medication can be dangerous if left untreated. There are a lot of herbal supplements that claim to help with hormonal imbalance. There is no clear evidence to suggest that they are beneficial. Some people find supplements helpful BUT it is best to make sure you don’t have a hormonal imbalance that needs treating before trying supplements.
The symptoms of menopause can often be managed with hormone replacement therapy if they are bothering you a lot.
If you are worried about your hormone balance, it is important to talk to your doctor about what you are experiencing.
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