Have you ever stopped and wondered what hormones are and what they actually do? The glands in your endocrine system produce chemicals, also known as hormones, into the bloodstream. Hormones serve many purposes, from regulating sleep, managing stress responses, mood, body temperature, metabolism, libido, reproductive cycles, and so much more.
They are very sensitive, and producing too much or too little of a particular hormone can have many resulting effects. Hormone levels fluctuate naturally during different stages of a woman’s life: from puberty, the phases of a menstrual cycle, to pregnancy, breastfeeding, and later on, menopause. Certain medical conditions, lifestyles, and environments can also cause hormonal changes or more specifically, imbalances.
Spotting the signs of hormonal imbalance can help you get the appropriate care and treatment for whatever may be causing it. Read on to learn about some of the most common symptoms of a hormonal imbalance in women.
Appetite and weight changes
Fluctuating hormone levels can cause you to eat less or more than you usually do – and may likewise result in unexplained weight loss or weight gain. However, several hormone-related conditions may have weight gain as a symptom. General puffiness or weight gain in the midsection may be linked to hormonal imbalances during menopause. One symptom of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is insulin resistance, which can lead to weight gain. Underactive thyroids have a significant role in helping to regulate metabolism, which could be another explanation for this.
One of the most prominent signs of a hormonal imbalance is chronic fatigue. Too much progesterone can make you sleepy all the time. In addition, your energy levels can become compromised when you have either an overactive or underactive thyroid. This is what is responsible for controlling your metabolic rate, or how you convert food into energy.
Skin and hair changes
An increase in androgen levels such as testosterone is common in women with PCOS, which can also lead to acne, male pattern balding, and hirsutism, or the growth of body hair in areas such as the chin, face, and abdomen. Low progesterone and estrogen levels can also lead to adult acne. Hormonal changes during pregnancy or menopause may make skin itchy or dry as well.
Estrogen plays a crucial role in a female’s reproductive system, also commonly known as a sex hormone. One important function estrogen has is its effect on neurotransmitters or brain chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. When estrogen levels fluctuate, they can cause premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or depression during perimenopause. If you’ve been noticing drastic dips in mood, try to keep a journal where you can record your symptoms which you can show to a doctor later on.
Estrogen also affects vaginal dryness, especially when you experience a drop in its production – common during perimenopause and menopause. This is because it helps with vaginal lubrication, thickness, and elasticity. Lower estrogen levels may also dry out, thin, and inflame the vaginal walls. Medications such as antidepressants or birth control pills may also cause vaginal dryness.
Progesterone and estrogen have an effect on the water in your body, causing excessive thirst. Levels of progesterone and estrogen fluctuate prior to or in the beginning of your period, which is why you may be more thirsty than you usually are at this time. However, excessive thirst could also signal that your body is not producing enough anti-diuretic hormone (ADH), which is what is responsible for helping your kidneys control the amount of water and salt in your body. It may potentially lead to diabetes insipidus.
Compromised sleep quality
Adding to the list of functions of estrogen and progesterone is promoting quality sleep. During perimenopause and menopause when you produce less of these hormones, you may experience insomnia. A drop in estrogen production may also cause you to sweat more at night, which could affect your sleep.
Low sex drive
Low estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone levels which can come with age and menopause may lead to a decline in your sex drive. While we know that estrogen and progesterone production drop during perimenopause and menopause, a lot may still be misunderstood about testosterone. Although commonly associated with males, women also have testosterone. However, it can become imbalanced when you take oral contraception – consequently affecting your sex drive. Chronically high cortisol levels, which is the stress hormone, can result in low thyroid levels, also potentially causing a lowered libido.
Hormones are extremely important in female reproduction, especially the ones that help control the menstrual cycle. As you grow older and hit the age of 35, your fertility also naturally drops. Hormonal imbalance is one of the top causes of infertility among females. PCOS and early menopause can both affect your fertility. When the ratios between your follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) are off, with the former being high and the latter being low, you may have issues with ovulation and fertility overall. Blood tests can help you check your levels of FSH and LH.
Hormones affect almost every aspect of your life – so now you may understand just how important it is to keep them in check. Aside from doing what you can to exercise regularly and subscribe to a well-balanced diet, sometimes, you may actually need professional help to make sure that everything is functioning as it should. And if they aren't, then a doctor can help recommend a treatment plan tailored to your needs, lifestyle, and the underlying cause behind your hormonal imbalance.
Kindred offers an array of options for women experiencing hormonal imbalances. Book a consultation with our endocrinologists who can help get to the bottom of metabolic hormonal imbalances, a PCOS Package for holistic and personalized care, or an Annual Well Woman Package to make sure things are good with every aspect of your health.