“It’s a hormone imbalance.”
It’s common to hear that these days, but what does that actually mean, and how do you know if your hormones are off?
Hormones are chemicals that work as messengers in your body. The endocrine gland produces hormones that travel around the bloodstream, delivering messages that tell your organs and tissue what to do.
Hormonal imbalances occur when there is too much or too little of a hormone in the bloodstream. These hormones affect each other, so a small imbalance in one hormone can throw others off as well.
Because of their essential role in the body, even small hormonal imbalances can cause side effects throughout the body.
Hormones actually control many of the body’s major processes like metabolism, reproduction, heart rate, sleep, growth, mood, and temperature.
Both men and women are affected by imbalances in insulin, steroids, growth hormones, and adrenaline.
On top of that, women experience imbalances in estrogen and progesterone levels, although they have testosterone too and can have issues with that.
So women can suffer hormone imbalances related to puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, menopause, and other factors including:
- hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid
- hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid
- Cushing syndrome
- hyperfunctioning thyroid nodules
- hormone therapy
- tumors (benign or cancerous)
- congenital adrenal hyperplasia
- eating disorders
- adrenal insufficiency
- pituitary tumor
- injury or trauma
- cancer treatments
Having one or more of these conditions gives you good reason to keep hormone health in mind.
It may still be hard to tell what’s going on. With so many hormones at play, let’s look at nine symptoms of hormone imbalances that everyone should know.
1. Constant Exhaustion
Fatigue is a common symptom with many potential underlying causes.
Working hard and living with high levels of stress will cause burnout, so how do you tell the difference?
First, burnout can actually throw your hormones off, so even if you can pinpoint a root cause to your symptoms, that doesn’t mean that you don’t need to see a doctor.
Chronic fatigue despite getting eight hours of sleep can be a sign that your hormones are off balance. Everybody feels tired sometimes, but if it’s a constant, it’s time to look into your hormones.
Too much progesterone will make you feel like sleeping more. Too little, and you might suffer from insomnia.
Another cause of exhaustion is low thyroid hormone levels, called hypothyroidism, and it’s easily diagnosed with a blood test.
If your levels are low, a prescription medication will bring your levels back up to normal.
A blood test will also reveal if you’re anemic instead, meaning you have low iron in your blood. So it’s always a good idea to have a doctor visit.
Good sleep hygiene helps to balance your body and hormones. That involves have a regular bedtime all week, and avoiding things that might disrupt sleep such as alcohol, caffeine, and exercise late in the day.
2. Brain Fog and Trouble Concentrating
“Brain fog” is linked to many different issues. Thyroid disease is one factor, which can be tested and treated.
Although not hormone related, some people with food allergies or a wheat intolerance will have trouble concentrating—sometimes the allergy symptoms don’t seem bad until added together.
Food allergies and sensitivities cause brain fog, skin rashes, asthma, and stomach problems.
If you’re not experiencing those symptoms with your brain fog, it might be hormone related.
Women in perimenopause and after menopause report more memory problems and have trouble concentrating.
Declining estrogen levels are partly to blame, but there’s other things at play too.
Perimenopausal and post-menopausal women often have trouble sleeping, hot flashes, and increased depression, and these contribute to brain fog.
If declining estrogen levels are causing your brain fog, hormone replacement therapy can offer some relief and restore balance.
3. Stubborn Adult Acne
Even adults get acne, and women especially do around their menstrual cycle.
If acne is a regular issue, your body might be producing too many androgens, which causes oil glands to work overtime and that clogs your pores.
When a woman’s androgen receptors are particularly sensitive, these hormones can trigger excess oil production and cause skin cells to become sticky, leading to clogged pores and breakouts.
Facial peels can help with that, and managing stress and your diet can help with hormone issues. Refined carbs, sugar, and dairy are linked to adult acne.
For years, doctors have prescribed the birth control pill for to balance hormones, but the issue isn’t always low estrogen. Testosterone also affects sebum production too.
The pill has side effects for some, and others don’t want to switch their birth control. So talk to your doctor about all of your options.
4. Stomach Problems
The gut is lined with receptors that respond to estrogen and progesterone, so the two hormones that affect females and adult acne can cause stomach issues as well.
When these two hormones are off, it can cause diarrhea, stomach pain, bloating, and nausea. You might notice these symptoms around your period.
If you have fatigue and acne along with stomach problems, it can indicate a hormone issue. Several things can cause those symptoms, so talk to your doctor about it.
Diet of course affects the gut lining as well, so diet can hurt your intestinal wall leading to Leaky Gut Syndrome. That causes inflammation, acne, and a host of vague health problems.
Because diet affects our hormones in different ways, it’s important to start there when balancing hormones.
5. Thyroid Symptoms
The thyroid gets a lot of press for a tiny, butterfly-shaped gland in the front of the neck. It produces hormones that control the speed of your metabolism so it affects how the body uses energy.
Thyroid disorders can slow down or speed up your metabolism, so it does have a big impact on your weight.
Thyroid hormones affect nearly every organ in the body, including how quickly the heart beats.
The symptoms change changed on if your thyroid is over working or under working.
Hypothyroidism causes a slower than usual heart rate while hyperthyroidism causes a faster heart rate, along with increased blood pressure and even a pounding heart or palpitations.
These disorders change your energy level and mood. Hypothyroidism makes people tired, sluggish, and depressed.
Hyperthyroidism causes anxiety, problems sleeping, restlessness, and irritability.
An enlargement in the neck is a visible clue that something’s up with your thyroid, and your doctor can run a simple blood test to check your levels if you’re experiencing any symptoms.
An important note: if you’re struggling with stubborn weight, acne, and exhaustion, check your soy intake. Drinking soy milk can affect your hormones and create symptoms that seem like thyroid issues, except you won’t test positive.
Soy is many foods, so even if you don’t drink soy, it’s a good idea to check labels to see if you’re ingesting enough to cause hormone problems.
6. Weight Issues
Many people struggle with their weight all their life, resisting cravings for food and doing sports; others are slim without any particular effort.
Why is that? Hormones are one culprit of this injustice.
As mentioned above, something might be off with your thyroid hormones, or you may be getting too much soy in your diet.
Sudden weight gain or loss without a reason is a good reason to see your doctor.
Hormone related weight gain can happen over time, but it’s stubborn weight that you can’t lose even as you diet and exercise more.
7. Hair Loss or hair growing in unwanted places
Excessive hair loss is one of the most common symptoms of a hormone imbalance, and can mean your thyroid hormones may be out of balance.
Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can cause hair to fall out, so a doctor will need to check which is causing the hair loss.
Hair will usually grow back once the imbalance is treated.
On the flip side, hormones can also cause dark hair on the breasts, face, hands, or other parts of the body. This can indicate a serious imbalance.
8. Mood Swings and/or Depression
Depression can be another symptom of hormonal imbalance. Anxiety and depression can occur just before a woman’s menstrual cycle, during pregnancy, and in menopause.
In the case of more frequent anxiety attacks, talk to an endocrinologist. Researchers think drops in hormones or fast changes in their levels can cause moodiness and the blues.
Estrogen affects key brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. But other hormones that travel the same paths as neurotransmitters also play a part in how you feel.
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, your doctor may prescribe birth control pills to keep estrogen levels more stable throughout the cycle.
Eating right, exercising, avoiding stress, and getting adequate sleep help minimize PMS symptoms and headaches.
Additionally, Healthline shares that symptoms of a hormonal imbalance specific to women include:
- heavy or irregular periods, including missed periods, stopped period, or frequent period
- hirsutism, or excessive hair on the face, chin, or other parts of the body
- acne on the face, chest, or upper back
- thinning hair or hair loss
- weight gain or trouble losing weight
- darkening of skin, especially along neck creases, in the groin, and underneath breasts
- skin tags
- vaginal dryness
- vaginal atrophy
- pain during sex
- night sweats
When visiting your doctor, take a detailed health history, list of symptoms and medications you take, date of your last period, weight changes, and any other possibly related health items.
We have many different hormones at play, and different symptoms for different combinations of issues. Read more about hormones and how they affect your health, and what you can do to manage them, at power of hormones
Medical News Today
“Women’s Health: 13 Hormone Imbalance Symptoms and Signs.” Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD. Onhealth.com
“How to treat Hormonal Ace With Birth Control.” Health.com