Common hormone imbalances

The five most important hormonal imbalances are diabetes, hypo- and hyperthyroidism, adrenal insufficiency, polycystic ovary syndrome, and hypogonadism.
The five most important hormonal imbalances are diabetes, hypo- and hyperthyroidism, adrenal insufficiency, polycystic ovary syndrome, and hypogonadism.

Hormonal imbalances are typically caused by problems with your endocrine system. This system is composed of eight major glands in various locations around your body.

These glands produce hormones — chemical messengers that travel throughout your body in your blood. They help all of your organs and tissues perform and coordinate your various physical functions.

Most hormonal imbalances happen when your body is making either too much or too little of a particular hormone or when your body can’t properly respond to the hormones that are present.

Common endocrine conditions include:

Hormonal imbalances like these are serious conditions that often require medical attention. It’s good for you to be aware of common endocrine conditions so you can recognize the signs of a possible hormonal imbalance and seek proper treatment.

Diabetes

Diabetes is the most common endocrine disorder in the U.S. There are two main kinds: type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is a condition that you’re born with. When you have this version, you don’t produce any of a hormone called insulin.

You can develop type 2 diabetes throughout your lifetime. When you have this version, your body no longer makes or uses insulin well.

Insulin normally helps the sugar in your blood enter your cells, where it can be used to make energy. Both versions of diabetes lead to too much sugar in your blood, and this can have serious long-term side-effects, including:

There are medications that can help you manage diabetes and maintain proper hormone levels, but the most effective treatment is to change your lifestyle to include a diabetes-friendly diet and regular exercise.

Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism

Your thyroid gland is located at the front of your neck and produces a number of necessary thyroid hormones. These hormones regulate how your body uses energy and can affect the function of every one of your organs.

When your thyroid produces too few hormones, the resulting condition is called hypothyroidism. About 5 out of every 100 Americans over the age of 12 have this condition, but the symptoms are often mild, and you may not know that you have it for years after it begins.

When your thyroid produces too many hormones, it results in hyperthyroidism. About 1 out of every 100 Americans over the age of 12 has this condition. If this condition goes untreated, you’re at risk for more serious complications such as an irregular heartbeat and weakened bones.

Women and people over the age of 60 are the most likely to develop both hypo- and hyperthyroidism.

Treatment for these conditions will be different for each person. For hypothyroidism, there are very effective medications that bring your hormone levels back to normal. For hyperthyroidism, medications can also help, but you may need surgery to remove part or most of the thyroid gland.

Adrenal insufficiency

In cases of adrenal insufficiency, your adrenal gland isn’t making enough of particular hormones such as cortisol. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone, and it’s essential for life.

The symptoms of adrenal insufficiency include:

It can be caused by an underlying autoimmune disorder or if you suddenly stop taking steroid-based medications. Addison’s disease is another cause of adrenal insufficiency.

You’ll usually need to take medications to replace the missing hormones. Your treatment may also include a high-sodium diet.

Polycystic ovary syndrome

Polycystic ovary syndrome affects 8% to 13% of all women at reproductive age. It’s the most common cause of infertility in women in this age range. The syndrome involves problems with the hormones insulin, testosterone, and other androgens.

Symptoms include decreased ovulation and excessive facial hair growth. It can also increase your chances of developing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Polycystic ovary syndrome doesn’t have a cure. Your doctor may prescribe oral contraceptives to treat the condition if you aren’t concerned with fertility. You’ll need some form of ovulation therapy if you want to become pregnant. There are many options for this treatment that you’ll need to discuss with your doctor.

Lifestyle changes, particularly modifying your diet and exercise routine in order to lose weight, are also effective solutions for long-term management of this condition.

Low testosterone and hypogonadism

This is a hormonal condition that — in males — is caused by low levels of the hormone testosterone. Testosterone is an important male sex hormone that influences the development of sex characteristics like body and facial hair. It also affects muscle development, sperm production, and sex drive.

If your testosterone levels are low, you may experience:

  • A drop in your sex drive
  • Poor erections
  • Enlarged breast tissue
  • A lower sperm count than normal

Over time, low levels can lead to more problems like weakened bones (osteoporosis).

This hormone imbalance can have a number of causes, including:

  • Injury or infection in your testicles
  • Chemotherapy
  • The use of opiates and corticosteroids
  • Chronic conditions like liver and kidney disease
  • Other hormonal issues like diabetes

Testosterone therapy — in the form of pills, patches, or injections — can help raise your levels of this hormone. You may also need to treat any underlying conditions to fix this issue.

Hypogonadism can also occur in females. This is when the ovaries produce too few sex hormones. It leads to decreased fertility, but this can commonly be treated with hormone replacement therapy.

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Medically Reviewed on 1/14/2022
References
Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews: "Lifestyle changes in women with polycystic ovary syndrome."

Gynecological Endocrinology: "Treatment strategies for women with polycystic ovary syndrome."

Hormone Health Network: "Low Testosterone (Hypogonadism)."

Medline Plus: "Diabetes," "Endocrine Diseases."

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Adrenal Insufficiency and Addison's disease," "Hyperthyroidism (Overactive Thyroid)," "Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid)."

University of California San Francisco Health: "Hypogonadism."