Bloating, fatigue, irritability, hair loss, palpitations, mood swings, problems with blood sugar, trouble concentrating, infertility -- these are just a few symptoms of hormone imbalance. These compounds affect every cell and system in the body. Hormone imbalance can debilitate you. Some hormonal shifts are normal, like monthly fluctuations responsible for menstruation and ovulation or the changes that occur during pregnancy. Menopause is another time for a normal hormonal shift in a woman's life. Other times these fluctuations may be due to a medication or a medical condition.
Cortisol is an important hormone that may become imbalanced with stress or illness. Low intensity exercise can help lower elevated cortisol levels. Stress impacts adrenal function and hormone levels. Get acquainted with hormone imbalance symptoms and signs so you can notice when things in your body and mind don't seem right.
Most women have menstrual cycles that last between 21 and 35 days. Up to one quarter of women experience irregular periods. This includes having periods that are shorter or longer than usual or periods that are lighter or heavier than usual. Some women who have irregular periods may experience abdominal cramping or a lack of ovulation. Amenorrhea is a medical term that refers to the an absence of periods for at least 3 months even though a woman is not pregnant. Menorrhagia is a disorder that causes excessive menstrual bleeding. Dysmenorrhea causes pain and cramping during periods. Prolonged menstrual bleeding involves periods in which bleeding routinely lasts for 8 days or longer. Oligomenorrhea is a condition in which periods occur infrequently or more than every 35 days. See your doctor if you believe hormonal imbalance is affecting your menstrual cycle.
If you can't sleep or you don't get good quality sleep, hormone balance may be to blame. Progesterone is one compound released by the ovaries that helps you sleep. Low levels may make it difficult to fall and stay asleep. A small study in postmenopausal women found that 300 milligrams of progesterone restored normal sleep when sleep was disturbed. Estrogen levels decrease in perimenopause and after menopause. This may contribute to night sweats and hot flashes, which often disrupt a woman's ability to sleep. See your doctor if you believe an imbalance in hormones is contributing to sleep problems.
Androgens May Be to Blame
Many women experience monthly breakouts before or during their period. However, chronic acne is something different. Acne that does not go away may be due to excess androgens, male hormones like testosterone that both women and men have. Excess levels of these androgens make oil glands extra productive. Androgens also affect skin cells that line hair follicles. Excess oil and skin cell changes clog pores, leading to acne. A doctor may prescribe birth control pills, corticosteroids like prednisone, or anti-androgen medications to treat hormonally influenced acne. High androgens may sometimes indicate polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Women with PCOS may experience infertility. High insulin levels can stimulate the production of androgens and may be associated with insulin resistance. Weight loss can help reverse insulin resistance.
“Brain fog” is a common complaint even though this is not a true medical term. It is a commonly reported symptom with many potential underlying causes. Women in perimenopause and after menopause report more memory complaints and difficulty concentrating than premenopausal women. Declining estrogen levels may be to blame, but other factors may play a role. Perimenopausal and post-menopausal women often have trouble sleeping and experience hot flashes and increased depression. These, in turn, may contribute to brain fog. Thyroid disease is another common cause of brain fog. See your doctor if you are experiencing brain fog so you can find out and treat the root cause. If declining estrogen levels are to blame, hormone replacement therapy may offer some relief and restore hormonal balance.
Cells lining the gastrointestinal tract have receptors for both estrogen and progesterone. Levels of these hormones change throughout the course of a woman's monthly menstrual cycle. When they do, they impact the function of the gastrointestinal system. Women often experience abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, and nausea before or during their periods. These symptoms can also occur with many other conditions. If a woman experiences them along with mood changes and fatigue before or during her period, it may be more likely that the GI disturbances are occurring due to monthly hormonal fluctuations.
Fatigue is a common symptom that may have many potential underlying causes. Just as too little progesterone can make it hard to sleep, too much progesterone can make you more tired. Another common hormonal imbalance that causes fatigue is low thyroid hormone levels (hypothyroidism). This condition is easily diagnosed with a blood test. If your levels are low, you can take prescription medication to bring your levels back up to normal. Regardless of any hormone imbalance that may exist, practice good sleep hygiene to optimize your sleep. This involves going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on the weekends. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and exercise from the late afternoon on to avoid interfering with sleep. Establish a relaxing nighttime routine to give your body the message that it's time for sleep. Take a warm bath, sip a cup of chamomile tea, or listen to relaxing music.
Hormonal imbalance may be to blame for some cases of mood disturbance. Many women experience anger, irritability, mood swings, depression, and anxiety before and during their periods. These can be associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a more severe form of PMS. Women who have PMS or PMDD appear to be more sensitive to changing hormone levels. Estrogen has an effect on neurotransmitters including dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. Not smoking or drinking alcohol can help with these symptoms. Steer clear of caffeine, sugar, and sodium. Get plenty of exercise, enough sleep, and get adequate calcium. Some women may benefit from taking birth control pills or a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). Talk therapy may be beneficial, too.
A decrease in estrogen levels during a woman's monthly cycle may trigger mood changes in some women. Some females may reach for comfort foods that are high in fat, calories, sugar, and salt in an effort to feel better. Sadly, eating these foods backfires and makes women feel worse. Sodium increases water retention and bloating.. Sugar, excess fat and calories will lead you to pack on the pounds. Falling estrogen levels also affect leptin, a hormone that inhibits hunger. Combat hormonal weight gain by adopting a healthy diet and exercise plan. Stick to lean meats, healthy fats, complex carbs, whole grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables to help prevent PMS and encourage healthy blood sugar levels and weight loss.
A variety of things may trigger headaches, but a decrease in estrogen levels is a common cause in women. If headaches occur routinely at the same time every month, just prior to or during a period, declining estrogen may be the trigger. If hormonal headaches are particularly bad, a doctor may prescribe birth control pills to keep estrogen levels more stable throughout the cycle. Try over-the-counter pain relievers to ease headache pain. If you need something stronger, a doctor may prescribe a triptan or other medication to treat and prevent headaches. Eating right, exercising, avoiding stress, and getting adequate sleep will help you minimize PMS symptoms and headaches.
Falling estrogen levels during perimenopause and a lack of estrogen after menopause may lead to vaginal dryness. This makes the wall of the vagina thinner. It can be painful to have sex. A doctor may prescribe synthetic hormones or bioidentical hormones to combat these and other symptoms related to menopause. It's important to take progesterone along with estrogen to decrease certain risks of hormone therapy. Some women are not advised to take it because of an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, blood clots, gall bladder disease, breast cancer, and endometrial cancer. Hormone therapy may be associated with side effects that include headaches, breast tenderness, swelling, mood changes, vaginal bleeding, and nausea.
Testosterone is typically thought of as a male hormone, but both men and women have it. Low testosterone levels may cause low libido. In one study of more than 800 postmenopausal women reporting low sex drive, those who received 150 or 300 micrograms per day of testosterone in the form of a topical patch reported more sexual desire and less distress than women who received a placebo. Women receiving extra testosterone also reported more satisfying sexual experiences compared to women who took a placebo. However, women who took 300 micrograms of testosterone per day had more unwanted hair growth than women who took the placebo. Men can get low testosterone, too. The condition has been referred to as andropause in males.
Estrogen that is too high or too low may lead to changes in breast tissues. High estrogen may cause lumpy or dense breast tissue, even cysts. Estrogen levels that are too low may cause decreased breast tissue density. In one study, postmenopausal women who took estrogen plus progesterone hormone replacement therapy experienced an increase in breast density compared to women who took a placebo. Xenoestrogens are compounds that mimic estrogen function in the body. They are naturally occurring in some plants and fungi but they are also found in some drugs, industrial by-products, and pesticides. Non-naturally occurring xenoestrogens may produce a number of harmful effects in the body, including geffects on breast density and the risk of breast cancer. They also disrupt the endocrine system. If you notice any breast changes or are concerned about your estrogen levels, see your doctor for an evaluation.
IMAGES PROVIDED BY:
- BMC Women’s Health: “Gastrointestinal Symptoms Before and During Menses in Healthy Women.”
- Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development: “What Are Menstrual Irregularities?”
- Frontiers in Bioscience: “Xenoestrogen Exposure and Mechanisms of Endocrine Disruption.”
- Integrative Medicine Insights: “Memory Decline in Peri- and Post-menopausal Women: The Potential of Mind-Body Medicine to Improve Cognitive Performance.”
- Journal of Endocrinological Investigation: “Exercise and Circulating Cortisol Levels: The Intensity Threshold Effect."
- The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism: “Progesterone Prevents Sleep Disturbances and Modulates GH, TSH, and Melatonin Secretion in Postmenopausal Women.”
- Journal of the National Cancer Institute: “Estrogen-Plus-Progestin Use an Mammographic Density in Postmenopausal Women: Women’s Health Initiative Randomize Trial.”
- National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: “Questions and Answers about Acne.”
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid)."
- New England Journal of Medicine: “Testosterone for Low Libido in Postmenopausal Women Not Taking Estrogen.”
- Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology: “Effects of Estradiol and FSH on Leptin Levels in Women with Suppressed Pituitary.”
- WomensHealth.gov: “Menstruation, Menopause, and Mental Health,” "“Premenstrual Syndrome."