When you hear the word “hormones,” you probably immediately think of teenagers and everything that comes with puberty. While hormones are responsible for many of the physical changes of adolescence, they are also critical to most of your body’s functions throughout your life.
Hormones are produced by the endocrine system and serve as chemical messengers to different organs and systems throughout the body. Ideally, your body produces the perfect amounts of each hormone—like estrogen, testosterone, cortisol, oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine—to ensure that every system functions correctly. But factors like age, stress, medication, and illness can affect the endocrine system, causing hormone imbalances that contribute to a host of issues.
The effects of a hormone imbalance vary depending on the cause. For example, the pancreas produces insulin to regulate blood glucose. When the pancreas doesn’t function as it should, it can be a factor in diabetes. The thyroid also produces hormones that help regulate metabolism and body function. If the gland becomes overactive or underactive, it can affect the health of various organs, muscles, and nerves.
For women, hormone imbalances are often caused by changes in the reproductive system. The ovaries produce estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. As women near menopause, their hormone levels fluctuate and create an imbalance that can lead to a host of symptoms.
Common Symptoms Of A Hormonal Imbalance
Because hormones are associated with every major bodily system, an imbalance can contribute to a wide range of symptoms, from those that are mildly inconvenient to those that can be life-disrupting.
If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor about testing for a hormone imbalance. Treatments are available to help optimize your hormones and restore balance, reducing discomfort.
1. Changes In Metabolism
Hormones help convert the food you eat into energy. An imbalance disrupts this process, which can lead to unexplained weight gain or loss, digestive upset, extreme thirst, frequent urination, and higher than normal cholesterol levels. Many women find that they start gaining weight around the abdomen during menopause, which can be at least partially attributed to hormone changes.
2. Mood Changes
Fluctuations in the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone during menopause disrupt the production of the mood-regulating hormone serotonin. This can contribute to mood swings, irritability, anxiety, and depression. Research shows there is an increased risk of new depression, or a relapse of controlled depression, during this transition.
Mood swings are often worsened by sleep disturbances, another common symptom of a hormone imbalance. Changes in hormone levels can contribute to sleep-interrupting hot flashes, as well as insomnia and sleep disorders, like restless leg syndrome and obstructive sleep apnea.
3. Hot Flashes
Hot flashes are one of the most common symptoms of hormone changes, affecting about 75% of women as they reach perimenopause. Although they typically only last a few minutes, hot flashes can cause extreme discomfort and sweating. They usually begin in the face and spread to the rest of the body, creating the sensation of extreme heat.
When hot flashes occur at night, they are known as night sweats. These occurrences can be so disruptive that some women need to get out of bed and change out of their damp pajamas or change the bedding.
4. Extreme Fatigue
Hormonal imbalances can contribute to fatigue. More than simply being sleepy or tired, fatigue is a feeling of overwhelming exhaustion. It can keep you from doing even simple everyday tasks and isn’t helped by getting sleep. The lack of energy can affect motivation as well as mood. It’s often associated with anxiety and depression, irritability, muscle weakness, and pain.
5. Skin And Hair Changes
Hormone imbalance is often associated with skin and hair changes, most of which are unwelcome. It’s not unusual for women to experience acne breakouts caused by hormone fluctuations. At the same time, dry skin is also a common complaint. Skin naturally tends to become drier and itchier with age, as oil and collagen production slow and cause the skin to become thinner.
Many women also notice that their hair becomes drier and coarser and even begins to thin due to hormone fluctuations. At the same time, an increase in the male hormones called androgens can contribute to hirsutism or excess body hair. An imbalance can contribute to hair on the face, chin, and chest, affecting self-confidence.
Get Help Treating A Hormone Imbalance
Hormone imbalances are common and normal for women as they reach middle age, but they do not have to be debilitating. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms to identify an effective treatment that can have you feeling like yourself again.