Hormone Imbalance in Women - What You Need to Know

Hormones are extremely important signals and even a slight shift can have a significant effect on your body.

Hormone Imbalance in Women - What You Need to Know

Hormones are extremely important signals and even a slight shift can have a significant effect on your body.

What are hormones?

Hormones are chemicals produced by different glands and tissues in your body and are responsible for carrying messages to your organs, skin, muscle and other tissues through the bloodstream, telling them what function to perform and when to do them.

Over 50 hormones have been identified in the human body so far and they  regulate processes in the body, including:

  • appetite and metabolism
  • sleep-wake cycles
  • heart rate
  • sexual function
  • reproduction
  • growth and development
  • general mood
  • stress levels
  • body temperature
Hormones

What is a hormone imbalance?

A hormonal imbalance happens when you have too much or too little of a certain hormone, such as progesterone, testosterone, oestrogen, insulin, cortisol, thyroxine, androgens.

Hormones are powerful signals, and such even just a slight change can have a significant effect on your body.

What causes hormone imbalances in women?

There are lots of possible causes of hormonal imbalance in women. Some of the most common reasons for a hormonal imbalance are:

  • Menopause
  • Pregnancy
  • Breastfeeding
  • Premature menopause
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Hypogonadism
  • Primary ovarian insufficiency
  • PCOS
  • Cushing syndrome
  • Benign or cancerous tumors
  • Congenital adrenal hyperplasia
  • Medications
  • Cancer treatments
  • Eating disorders
  • Stress
  • Hormone therapy (HRT)
  • Thyroiditis
  • Diabetes

What medical conditions can hormone imbalance cause?

Dozens of medical conditions are caused by hormone issues. Some of the most common hormone-related conditions for women and people assigned female at birth include:

  • Irregular periods: Several hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone etc) are involved in the menstrual cycle and as such an imbalance in any one or several of those hormones can cause irregular periods. Specific hormone-related conditions that cause irregular periods include polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and amenorrhea.
  • Infertility: Hormonal imbalances are the leading cause of infertility in people assigned female at birth. Hormone-related conditions such as PCOS and anovulation - when an egg (ovum) doesn’t release from your ovary during the menstrual cycle - can cause infertility.
  • Diabetes: Your pancreas doesn’t make any or enough of the hormone insulin or your body doesn’t use it properly. There are several different kinds of diabetes and they all require treatment.
  • Obesity: Many hormones can affect how your body signals that you need food and how your body uses energy, so an imbalance of certain hormones can result in weight gain in the form of fat storage. For example, excess cortisol (also a hormone) can contribute to obesity.
  • Acne: While many factors contribute to the development of acne, hormone fluctuations, especially during puberty, are a significant factor.
  • Adult acne: Hormonal acne (adult acne) develops when hormonal changes increase the amount of oil your skin produces.

How is a hormonal imbalance diagnosed?

You must visit your healthcare provider in order to diagnose hormonal imbalances. Before requesting any tests, they will ask about your symptoms and suggest which hormone imbalance test you should get.

Be prepared to describe your symptoms and the timeline along which they’ve occurred. Also, bring a list of all medications, vitamins, and supplements you’re currently taking.

Questions your doctor might ask you around your symptoms?

  • Have you lost or gained weight recently?
  • Are you more stressed than usual?
  • When was your last period?
  • Are you planning to get pregnant?
  • Do you have vaginal dryness or pain during sex?
  • Does anything help relieve your symptoms?

Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may suggest one or more diagnostic tests. You can also request that your doctor perform these tests.

Since your endocrine glands release hormones directly into your bloodstream, blood tests are a great way of getting a snapshot view of your hormone levels. However, as certain hormone levels vary drastically throughout the day, providers may order other tests to measure your levels, such as a glucose tolerance test or insulin tolerance test.

These tests could be:

  • Blood test: your estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, thyroxine, TTH, insulin, and cortisol levels can be detected in the blood
  • Pelvic exam: search for any lumps or cysts
  • Ultrasound: images of your uterus, ovaries, thyroid, and pituitary gland
  • Biopsy and MRI

Hormone imbalance symptoms and signs

Because your body makes over 50 different hormones — all of which contribute to important bodily functions — you could experience several different symptoms depending on which hormonal imbalance you have.

It’s important to know that many of the following symptoms could be caused by other conditions, not just from a hormonal imbalance.

Hormone imbalance symptoms of female sex hormone imbalances

  • Excessive weight gain
  • Sweaty skin
  • Decreased of loss of interest in sex
  • Hair loss
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Persistent acne
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Digestive problems
  • Hot flashes and night sweats
  • Infertility
  • Irregular periods
  • Heavy periods
  • Vaginal atrophy and dryness
Natural ways of balancing hormones

Treatment options for a hormonal imbalance

Some hormonal imbalances require treatment so you can stay physically healthy, while others may not impact your health but can negatively affect your quality of life. Treatment for a hormonal imbalance will depend on what’s causing it.

Some common treatment options are described below:

  • Estrogen therapy: if you are experiencing hot flashes and other uncomfortable symptoms during menopause, estrogen therapy can help relieve these symptoms.
  • Vaginal estrogen: if you’re experiencing vaginal dryness or pain during sex, you may want to try applying an estrogen cream, tablet, or ring.
  • Hormonal birth control: can help regulate your menstrual cycles. Types of hormonal birth control include the birth control pill, birth control patch, intrauterine device (IUD), etc…
  • Thyroid hormone therapy: If you have hypothyroidism, the synthetic thyroid hormone levothyroxine (Levoxyl, Synthroid, Unithroid) can bring hormone levels back into balance.
  • Metformin: Metformin is a type 2 diabetes medication that may help some individuals with PCOS symptoms (although, the FDA has not approved it to treat PCOS, it might help lower androgen levels and encourage ovulation).

Natural ways to balance your hormones and prevent imbalances

Many people also experience relief from certain lifestyle changes, including:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Eating a balanced, healthy diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Managing your stress
  • Getting enough quality sleep

References:

  • Martín, Ana Isabel et al. “Hormones and Muscle Atrophy.” Advances in experimental medicine and biology vol. 1088 (2018): 207-233. doi:10.1007/978-981-13-1435-3_9
  • Lause, Michael et al. “Dermatologic manifestations of endocrine disorders.” Translational pediatrics vol. 6,4 (2017): 300-312. doi:10.21037/tp.2017.09.08
  • “9 Medical Reasons for Putting on Weight.” NHS Choices, NHS, www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-weight/nine-medical-reasons-for-putting-on-weight/.
  • “Low Sex Drive in Women.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/low-sex-drive-in-women/symptoms-causes/syc-20374554.
  • Hormone Health Network. Women’s Health. (https://www.hormone.org/your-health-and-hormones/womens-health)
  • McLaughlin MB, Jialal I. Biochemistry, Hormones. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK541112/) [Updated 2021 Jul 22]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island, FL: StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan.
  • Society for Endocrinology. Hormones. (https://www.yourhormones.info/hormones/)
  • Cleveland Clinic, "Hormone Imbalance", https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22673-hormonal-imbalance.
  • Healthline, "Everything You Should Know About Hormonal Imbalance",  https://www.healthline.com/health/hormonal-imbalance.