Hormonal imbalances occur when there is too much or too little of a hormone in the blood. Symptoms depend on which hormone is out of balance and the person’s natal sex. Common symptoms include weight changes, lower sex drive, and acne.
Hormones are chemicals produced by glands in the endocrine system. Hormones travel through the bloodstream to the tissues and organs, delivering messages that tell the organs what to do and when to do it.
Hormones are essential for regulating most major bodily processes, so a hormonal imbalance can affect many bodily functions. Hormones help to regulate:
- blood sugar
- blood pressure
- reproductive cycles and sexual function
- general growth and development
- mood and stress levels
Imbalances in insulin, steroids, growth hormones, and adrenaline can affect males and females alike.
Females may also experience imbalances in estrogen and progesterone levels, while males are more likely to experience imbalances in testosterone levels.
The symptoms of a hormonal imbalance can vary according to which gland is affected and whether the person is male or female.
Symptoms in females
In women, the symptoms more frequently include:
- mood swings
- constipation or diarrhea
- irregular menstrual cycle
- pain in the abdomen or the back during menstruation
- low sex drive
weight gainor weight loss
- brittle bones
- hirsutism, or excessive hair growth
- rashes on the skin
Symptoms in males
When a male has low testosterone levels, their symptoms will typically include:
- decrease in sex drive
- erectile dysfunction (ED)
- loss of muscle mass
- thinning hair and reduced hair growth
- tenderness in the area of the chest
Acne can occur due to the overproduction of oil in the skin’s sebaceous glands. This excess oil can clog pores and attract bacteria that further inflame the skin.
The hormones testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone can affect the sebaceous glands in a person’s skin. Some ways these hormones can influence acne include:
- Testosterone helps to regulate sebum (oil) production. Excess amounts can potentially block pores, resulting in acne.
- Increasing progesterone levels likely play a role in pregnancy-related acne, although doctors are not sure exactly how.
- Women can experience post-menopausal acne, which may be due to changes in estrogen and progesterone levels.
In addition, females who have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) are more likely to experience severe and persistent acne. Doctors think increased exposure to androgen hormones, such as testosterone, and resistance to insulin hormones may increase acne risks.
Hormone imbalances can affect several processes in the body that lead to weight gain. Some examples include:
- Thyroid hormones act to regulate the body’s metabolism or the rate it burns energy. Too few thyroid hormones can slow metabolism and result in weight gain.
- Decreasing levels of estrogen can
leadto weight gain in menopause.
- Hormonal imbalances due to PCOS can
resultin weight gain.
- More than 80% of people with Cushing’s disease report weight gain as a symptom. This disorder causes the body to produce excess amounts of cortisol.
Ideally, treating the underlying condition can help
Pregnancy results in changing hormone levels to nourish a growing fetus. These include changing levels of the hormones progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone. While the hormone levels may be different, they are not necessarily unbalanced during pregnancy.
However, some hormones that increase during pregnancy can affect how a woman’s body uses insulin. This can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes during pregnancy.
Learn more about gestational diabetes here.
Male pattern hair loss has links to
However, not all males experience androgenetic alopecia even though their hormone levels change as they age. Doctors
Testing for hormonal imbalances depends largely on what condition your doctor may think is causing your condition. Some of the tests a doctor may use include:
- Blood testing: Doctors can test for certain hormones, such as estrogen, testosterone, or thyroid hormone.
- Imaging: Doctors imaging studies, such as ultrasound, X-ray, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests to identify cysts or tumors that could cause the body to produce excess amounts of hormones.
- Urine testing: Doctors use urine tests to measure levels of hormones related specifically to the menstrual cycle, such as follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).
Some at-home testing kit companies may offer products that allow a person to take a test at home. These could include urine or blood tests. A person should ensure the company is reputable and uses certified laboratories to evaluate testing samples.
Everyone will experience natural periods of hormonal imbalance or fluctuations at particular points in their lives. But hormonal imbalances can also occur when the endocrine glands are not functioning properly.
Endocrine glands are specialized cells that produce, store, and release hormones into the blood. There are several endocrine glands located throughout the body that control different organs, including the:
- adrenal glands
- gonads (testis and ovaries)
- pineal gland
- pituitary gland
- hypothalamus gland
- thyroid and parathyroid glands
- pancreatic islets
Several medical conditions can impact the endocrine glands. Certain lifestyle habits and environmental factors can also play a role in hormonal imbalances.
Learn more about endocrine disorders here.
Medical conditions that can
- diabetes, in which the body does not produce enough of the hormone insulin
- hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, which are the overactivity and underactivity of the thyroid gland
- Addison’s disease, in which the adrenal glands do not produce enough hormones
- Cushing’s syndrome, in which the adrenal glands produce too many corticosteroids
- acromegaly, which is the overproduction of growth hormones
- hyperglycemia, which is the overproduction of glucagon
- hypoglycemia, which is when the body produces more insulin than there is glucose in the blood
- solitary thyroid nodules
- pituitary tumors
- benign tumors and cysts (fluid-filled sacks) that affect the endocrine glands
- congenital adrenal hyperplasia (low levels of cortisol)
- cancers that involve endocrine glands
- chemotherapy and radiation therapy
- iodine deficiency (goiters)
- hereditary pancreatitis
- Turner syndrome, in which females are born with only one functioning X chromosome
- Prader-Willi syndrome
- pituitary gland injury with bleeding and congenital genetic abnormalities in a pregnant person and their fetus
Other causes of hormonal imbalance may include:
- chronic stress
- poor diet and nutrition
- having overweight
- hormonal replacement or birth control medications
- misuse of anabolic steroid medications
- exposure to toxins, pollutants, and endocrine-disrupting chemicals, including pesticides and herbicides
Females naturally experience several periods of hormonal imbalance throughout their lifetime, including:
- pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding
- perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause
Females are likely to develop different hormonal imbalance disorders than males because they have different endocrine organs and cycles.
Causes of hormonal imbalance in women include:
- polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- hormone replacement or birth control medications
primary ovarian insufficiency (POI) ovariancancer
Males also experience natural periods of hormonal imbalance during their lifetime, including:
Men may develop different hormonal imbalances than women because they have different endocrine organs and cycles.
Medical conditions causing hormonal imbalances in men include, but are not limited to:
- congenital problems or other underlying medical conditions
- prostate cancer, which
developswith the aid of androgens or male sex hormones
- hypogonadism, which is the production of testosterone
- testicular injury
- radiation or chemotherapy
- hormone disorders, such as a pituitary tumor
- diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, HIV, and AIDS
- genetic conditions, such as Klinefelter syndrome, hemochromatosis, or Kallmann syndrome
Treatment for hormonal imbalances may vary depending on the cause. Every person may require different types of treatment for hormonal imbalances.
Treatments for females
Treatment options for females with hormone imbalances include:
- Hormone or birth control. For those who are not trying to get pregnant, medications containing forms of estrogen and progesterone can help regulate irregular menstrual cycles and symptoms. Birth control is available as a pill, ring, patch, shot, or intrauterine device (IUD).
- Vaginal estrogen. People experiencing vaginal dryness associated with changes in estrogen levels can apply creams containing estrogen directly to vaginal tissues to reduce symptoms. They can also use estrogen tablets and rings to relieve vaginal dryness.
- Hormone replacement medications. Medications are available to temporarily reduce severe symptoms associated with menopause, such as hot flashes or night sweats.
- Eflornithine (Vaniqa). This prescription cream may slow excessive facial hair growth in women.
- Anti-androgen medications. Medications that block the predominately male-sex hormone androgen can help limit severe acne and excessive hair growth or loss.
- Clomiphene (Clomid) and letrozole (Femara). These medications help stimulate ovulation in people with PCOS who are trying to become pregnant. Doctors may also give those with PCOS and infertility injections of gonadotropins to help increase the chances of pregnancy.
- Assisted reproductive technology. In vitro fertilization (IVF) may be used to help those with PCOS complications get pregnant.
Treatments for males
Treatment options for males with hormonal imbalances include:
- Testosterone medications. Gels and patches containing testosterone
can helpreduce symptoms of hypogonadism and other conditions that cause low testosterone levels, such as delayed or stunted puberty.
Treatment options for hormonal imbalances include:
- Metformin. A medication for PCOS and diabetes, metformin can help
lowerboth androgens and blood sugar levels.
- Levothyroxine. Medications containing levothyroxine, such as Synthroid and Levothroid, can help improve symptoms of hypothyroidism.
RECALL OF METFORMIN EXTENDED RELEASE
Metformin extended-release tablets should be taken with care and under the advice of a doctor. In May 2020, the
Food and Drug Administration (FDA)recommended that some makers of metformin extended-release remove some of their tablets from the U.S. market. Further, in June 2021, Viona Pharmaceuticals, a maker of extended-release Metformin pulled their tablets from pharmacy shelves.
Each concern was because an unacceptable level of a probable carcinogen (cancer-causing agent) was found in some extended-release Metformin tablets. If you currently take this drug, call your healthcare provider. They will advise whether you should continue to take your medication or if you need a new prescription.
People have used natural supplements to treat hormonal imbalances for thousands of years.
However, clinical studies have not proven that any natural remedies can treat hormonal imbalances and their causes.
Natural supplements commonly used to reduce symptoms of hormonal imbalances include:
- black cohosh, dong quai, red clover, and evening primrose oil for hot flashes caused by menopause
- ginseng for irritability, anxiousness, and sleep disturbances caused by menopause
- ginseng, and maca for ED
Before taking any natural or herbal treatment, a person should check with their doctor to ensure safety and avoid interaction side effects when taking with other medications.
Lifestyle changes that may help reduce the likelihood and symptoms of hormonal imbalances include:
- maintaining a moderate body weight
- eating a nutritious and balanced diet
- exercising regularly
- practicing good personal hygiene, focusing on washing areas with a lot of natural oils, such as the face, neck, back, and chest
- using OTC acne washes, rinses, and medicated creams or gels for minor to moderate acne
- avoiding triggers that cause hot flashes, such as warm weather and spicy, rich, or hot foods and drinks
- reducing and managing stress
- practicing yoga, meditation, or guided visualization
- limiting sugary foods and refined carbohydrates
- avoiding packaged foods
- replacing older non-stick pans with ceramic pans
- using glass containers to store and heat foods and drinks
- restricting the use of cleaning products that contain toxic chemicals, such as bleach
- buying fruits and vegetables free from pesticides or ripening chemicals
- avoiding microwaving foods and drinks in plastic containers
Most people will experience at least one or two periods of hormonal imbalance during their lifetime.
Hormonal imbalances are more common during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, menopause, and aging. But some people experience continual, irregular hormonal imbalances.
Medical conditions that affect or involve the endocrine system or glands can lead to a hormone imbalance. However, external factors, such as stress or hormone medications, can also be a cause.
A person should speak to a doctor about long-term unexplained symptoms, especially those that cause pain, discomfort, or interfere with everyday activities.