While most women are aware that hormonal changes are the key player in menopause, not all women know that hormonal imbalance can be caused by other health issues as well as environmental factors. Women who have symptoms linked to other causes of hormone imbalance may also be helped by hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in the same way menopausal women benefit from the treatment.
Signs of Hormone Imbalance
Women with hormonal imbalances may experience the following symptoms:
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Heavy menstrual periods
- Weight gain
- Difficulty sleeping
- Hair loss
- Pelvic pain
- Breast tenderness
- Irritability or anxiety
- Bone loss
- Excessive sweating
- Dry skin or rashes
- Increased thirst
Possible Causes of Hormone Imbalance
- Pregnancy: This is one of the more obvious causes of hormone imbalance. The levels of several different hormones change during pregnancy and may cause the symptoms above. Luckily the hormonal imbalances linked to pregnancy are temporary and resolve some time after the baby is born (but not immediately).
- Breastfeeding: Some of the hormonal issues that pregnant women experience will become less noticeable after they give birth and recover. But, breastfeeding a baby can also affect hormone levels. There are two hormones directly related to breastfeeding: prolactin and oxytocin. Breastfeeding may also affect progesterone because women who breastfeed may have irregular menstrual cycles or no cycle at all.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): This is a hormonal disorder that is common among women of reproductive age. The US Office on Women’s Health reports that 1 in 10 American women are affected by PCOS.
- Primary ovarian insufficiency: This is also called premature ovarian failure and occurs when the ovaries stop functioning normally before age 40. The ovaries stop producing the normal amount of estrogen or release eggs for ovulation. This often leads to infertility.
- Diabetes: Diabetes can throw off the balance of hormones in your body. Diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough of the hormone insulin. Or, the body can’t properly use the insulin the pancreas makes. Insulin helps metabolize the sugar we eat into energy for our cells. If there’s not enough or if the body isn’t using it properly, then there will be too much sugar in the blood.
- Hypothyroidism or Hyperthyroidism: Both of these conditions are related to the thyroid gland, which is responsible for producing and releasing hormones that regulate metabolism. Hypothyroidism means it is not producing enough hormones and hyperthyroidism means it’s producing too much.
- Stress: Stress is a possible cause of hormone imbalance. When you are in danger or anxious about something, your body’s response is to produce stress hormones to get you through the intense situation. Stress hormones control your fight-or-flight reflexes and can even affect how your body responds to pain. If you are chronically stressed, your body is producing too many stress hormones, which will throw things out of balance and affect your health.
- Tumors and cancer treatments: If a tumor is on or near a gland in the endocrine system, it can affect the hormones that the gland produces and delivers. This is true of both benign (non-cancerous) and cancerous tumors. Also, cancer treatments like chemotherapy or radiation may affect hormone levels too.
- Weight issues or eating disorders: Women who are extremely overweight or underweight may also have hormonal imbalances. Weight can affect your metabolism, which impacts your hormones. Women who are overweight or underweight often have irregular or absent periods, meaning that they do not ovulate regularly. Obesity is also linked to diabetes, which is mentioned above.
- Hormone disruptors: Hormone disruptors are external elements that contain chemicals or properties that can affect your body’s endocrine system. Some of these disruptors are environmental and some are things we consume. Some things that may be hormone disruptors include foods, personal care products, cleaning supplies, food containers, drinking water, and some kind of medication.
Get Treatment for Hormone Imbalance
Dr. Karen Clark of Chapel Hill Gynecology is a certified menopause practitioner, experienced in helping patients manage the symptoms of menopause, including bone loss. 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.