Hormones are the body’s chemical messengers, traveling through the bloodstream instructing tissues and organs. Hormones affect many different processes in the body, like metabolism, sexual function, reproduction, and even mood. Hormones are powerful, and too much or too little of a certain hormone can have serious effects on the body.
Hormone imbalances can happen at any age and can be caused by many factors. The following outlines some of the common symptoms and causes of hormone imbalances.
Symptoms of Hormone Imbalances
Because hormones play a role in so many functions of the body, there is a wide range of symptoms that can signal hormone imbalances. Symptoms will depend on which hormones are lacking or working improperly.
Signs and symptoms of hormone imbalances include:
- Unexplained weight gain or loss
- Mood swings
- Trouble concentrating
- Irregular periods
- Reduced sex drive
- Trouble sleeping
- Hair loss or thinning
- Hot flashes or night sweats
These symptoms are not specific to hormone imbalances and can result from a number of factors. A lab test will measure the hormone levels in your blood and determine if symptoms are caused by a hormone imbalance.
5 Common Causes of Hormone Imbalances
Like symptoms, there is a broad range of causes of hormone imbalances. Hormone levels naturally fluctuate throughout life as we age or enter new phases, like menopause. Other hormone imbalances, however, can occur when the endocrine glands, the special groups of cells that make hormones, fail to function properly.
Here are some of the common causes of hormone imbalances:
During pregnancy, women often experience sudden changes in hormone levels. Several hormones play a major role in pregnancy: HCG, HPL, estrogen, and progesterone. HCG and HPL are hormones made in the placenta to prepare the body for pregnancy. HCG may be a cause of nausea and vomiting that many pregnant women experience.
Estrogen and progesterone are female sex hormones, and levels of both significantly increase during pregnancy. Increased levels of these hormones are responsible for pregnancy side effects like hair growth, gastrointestinal symptoms, and lower blood pressure (progesterone) as well as skin changes and the pregnancy ‘glow’ (estrogen).
Menopause occurs when the ovaries stop producing the hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone and menstruation stops. The depletion of these hormones leads to the common symptoms of menopause: hot flashes and night sweats, vaginal dryness, difficulty sleeping, and emotional changes.
Medications and Drugs
Pregnancy and menopause are not the only causes of hormone imbalances. Certain birth controls, such as contraceptive pills, patches, or IUDs, release or contain hormones designed to prevent ovulation or fertilization of eggs. Make sure to talk to your doctor before starting any hormonal medications, and let them know if you experience symptoms of hormone imbalance.
Apart from prescribed medications, certain drugs can also disrupt normal hormone production. Heroin, MDMA, and appearance or performance enhancement drugs such as steroids can lead to both reversible and permanent changes.
Malnutrition and unhealthy eating habits associated with eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder can affect hormone levels, which can then cause physiological and even psychological problems. Hormones affected by eating disorders include those that regulate metabolism, fertility, stress, and pregnancy.
When you encounter a perceived threat, the body is hard-wired to release a surge of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol through the body. The hormones increase your heart rate, elevate your blood pressure, and boost energy supplies to help you respond to the threat. Once the threat has passed, hormone levels return to normal.
But for those dealing with chronic or high stress, the perceived threat does not disappear, so hormone levels remain elevated. Chronic stress can increase your risk of anxiety, depression, sleep problems, and more. If you’re dealing with stress, try these techniques to manage stress and its impacts.
These are just some of the common causes of hormone imbalances. Others include health conditions and diseases such as diabetes, hypoglycemia, thyroid issues, Cushing’s syndrome, Addison’s disease, and tumors (both benign and malignant).
Talk to a Specialist
If you’re experiencing symptoms or causes of hormone imbalances, speak to a specialist about your options. Dr. Karen Clark of Chapel Hill Gynecology is an OB/GYN and Certified Menopause Practitioner with extensive experience helping women choose the hormone regimen that is right for them. To schedule an appointment, call (919) 960-2720. Chapel Hill Gynecology is open for office visits (using recommended protocols for preventing COVID-19 exposure) as well as telemedicine visits.