What are hormonal imbalances?

The main causes of hormonal imbalances are issues with the thyroid, stress, and eating disorders. Some symptoms include irregular periods, low sex-drive, unexplained weight gain, and mood swings.
The main causes of hormonal imbalances are issues with the thyroid, stress, and eating disorders. Some symptoms include irregular periods, low sex-drive, unexplained weight gain, and mood swings.

Your hormones, which your endocrine system makes, are your body’s messengers. They travel throughout your body, helping control the functions of your major processes and maintain balance within your body. They help manage energy levels, metabolism, reproduction, and more. 

If your endocrine system makes too much or too little of a hormone, you develop a hormonal imbalance. Even small imbalances can create problems, such as health issues, early onset menopause, or ovarian cancer. There are many signs and symptoms of hormonal imbalances in women, as well as many different causes. Diagnosing the imbalance and finding the cause can lead to a treatment that restores proper balance and health. 

7 common signs and symptoms of hormonal imbalances in women

There are many signs and symptoms of hormonal imbalances in women. They depend on which glands in your body are affected and which hormones are imbalanced. Symptoms include:

Irregular periods

A hormone imbalance can lead to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a condition in which the body makes higher levels of male hormones. The imbalance leads to skipped periods and can contribute to health issues such as heart disease and diabetes. Imbalances may also cause heavier than normal periods. 

Low sex drive

A drop in your estrogen levels can cause a loss of desire for sexual intercourse. The imbalance can also cause vaginal dryness, which may make sex painful or uncomfortable. 

Unexplained weight gain

Low levels of thyroid hormones, high levels of cortisol, PCOS, and other hormonal imbalances can cause unexplained weight gain

Infertility

Hormone imbalances can affect your menstrual cycle, which can make it harder to get pregnant

Insomnia

Progesterone is known as the “relaxing hormone.” An imbalance of this hormone can lead to insomnia, making it more difficult for you to sleep. Too much progesterone may also lead to chronic fatigue

Bloating 

Cells in the lining of your digestive tract have receptors for estrogen and progesterone. Changes in the levels of these hormones may affect your digestion, leading to bloating and other stomach issues. 

Mood swings

Mood swings may occur as the result of normal hormonal changes that occur during the menstrual cycle or menopause. Other types of hormonal imbalances, such as thyroid hormone imbalances, may also lead to mood changes

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3 main causes of hormonal imbalances in women

Some causes of hormonal imbalances in women are natural. Your hormones fluctuate during your menstrual cycle, which can lead to symptoms such as bloating or insomnia. Pregnancy and breastfeeding also affect your hormones. Menopause leads to hormonal changes as well. 

Some causes of hormonal imbalances, however, occur for other reasons, such as:

Issues with your thyroid

An overactive or underactive thyroid causes imbalances in the levels of thyroid hormone in your body. These issues may occur as a result of an autoimmune condition, medication, tumors, and more. 

Stress

Stress causes your body to produce cortisol. Too much cortisol can lead to Cushing syndrome. Long-term stress exposes your body to high levels of cortisol for long periods and can affect the levels of other hormones in your body. 

Eating disorders

Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, can affect your hormone levels, leading to too little estrogen, low bone density, and other problems. 

Birth control

Some types of birth control have hormones in them, which then affect the hormones in your body. They can cause issues such as a lack of periods, irregular periods, heavy bleeding, weight gain, digestive problems, and more. Coming off of hormonal birth control may also temporarily affect your natural hormone levels as they rebalance themselves. 

Diagnosing hormonal imbalances in women

If you suspect a hormonal imbalance, your doctor can diagnose the issue and help you to get the treatment you need. 

Diagnosing a hormonal imbalance often begins with an overview of your symptoms and a physical exam. Testing may include:

Treatments for hormonal imbalances in women

Treatment for hormonal imbalances depends on the cause and may include:

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Medically Reviewed on 12/8/2020
References
American Family Physician: "Side Effects of Hormonal Contraceptives."

Gender Medicine. Official Journal of the Partnership for Gender-Specific Medicine at Columbia University: "Do Fluctuations in Ovarian Hormones Affect Gastrointestinal Symptoms in Women with Irritable Bowel Syndrome?"

Hormone Health Network: "Anorexia."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Hormones and the Endocrine System."

Mayo Clinic: "Chronic Stress Puts Your Health at Risk."

Mayo Clinic: "Menorrhagia (Heavy Menstrual Bleeding)."

Mayo Clinic: "Low sex drive in women."

National Health Service: "9 medical reasons for putting on weight."

Penn Medicine: "Irregular Periods: Why Is My Period Late?"

Women's Brain Health Initiative: "The Effects of Hormones on Brain Health."

Yale Medicine: "Women, Are Your Hormones Keeping You Up at Night?"