Most of us are familiar with the symptoms of hormonal changes without necessarily understanding how they work. Included are conditions such as menopause, PMS and changes due to the contraceptive pill. Hormonal changes are not just limited to our reproductive system though.
Your hormones affect every bodily system and function from melatonin which regulates our sleep patterns to thyroxine which controls our metabolism. When your hormones are out-of-sync for one reason or another, you’ll start to notice quite a few symptoms. This list of 10 signs that mean you may have a hormonal imbalance will help you discover if you’ve been affected.
What Are Hormones?
Hormones are chemical messengers that regulate the function of most of our organs. There are tens if not hundreds of different hormones in our body (here’s a list of them all). It’s normal for your levels to change and cycle depending on many factors such as age and pregnancy. (source)
Examples of some systems regulated by our hormones are: sleep, growth, metabolism, stress, blood pressure and reproduction. Some of our organs which produce hormones are: the pituitary gland, thyroid gland, adrenal gland and ovaries. These organs make up the endocrine system. (source)
How Do Hormones Get out of Balance?
Reasons for hormone imbalance range from lifestyle factors to minor and serious health conditions. It’s hard to figure it out yourself so if you’re concerned, it’s best to have a discussion with your doctor who can run some tests and pinpoint the source. Some common causes of hormonal imbalance include: (source)
- The contraceptive pill
- Poor sleep patterns
- Poor diet and lack of exercise
- Under or overactive thyroid
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Some cancers
10 Signs That Mean You May Have Hormonal Imbalance
1. Fatigue and Changes in Sleep Pattern
It’s normal to have an off-day now and then where it’s extra difficult to drag yourself out of bed in the morning. However, if you find yourself feeling like this every day, it could be a sign of hormonal imbalance.
A few different hormones could be the culprit here. Low thyroid hormone is the main one. Hypothyroidism decreases metabolism, meaning all of your body’s systems slow down – from heart rate to mental function to digestion. (source)
Another cause could be progesterone. You may notice that it’s harder to sleep before you get your period. This is due to a drop in progesterone. On the other hand, if you have too much progesterone, it will make you sleepy all the time. (source)
Estrogen messes up your sleep patterns in a different way. Low estrogen causes night sweats and hot flashes, making it impossible to get a good night’s rest. This is most common during menopause but if you notice these symptoms at another time, it’s best to get it checked out. (source)
2. Memory Problems
If you’ve suddenly started to become absent minded and forgetful, it could be a hormonal issue. If you’re overproducing the stress hormone cortisol, it can affect your memory. (source)
Changes in estrogen and progesterone cause what is often described as “memory fog”. This may be as a result of estrogen’s effect on your brain chemicals. Memory fog is common during menopause. Thyroid disease is also a cause. (source)
You’ve probably experienced an acne breakout just before your period (if not, you’re lucky!). This is due to the cyclic changes in production of your reproductive hormones during the month.
However, if you suffer from severe acne all the time, an upset in “male” hormones could be the cause. Testosterone causes production of sebum or oil which is a contributing factor to acne. The worse the imbalance, the worse your acne will be. (source)
4. Digestive Issues
Estrogen and progesterone are involved in regulating your gut. When there is too much or too little of one of these hormones you will notice diarrhea, stomach pain, bloating, and nausea. This is normal as part of your menstrual cycle but if you have constant tummy troubles, it could be due to a hormonal imbalance. (source)
5. Decreased Libido
Hormonal imbalances wreak havoc on your sex drive. Not only does low estrogen kill your libido but it also causes vaginal dryness, making intercourse uncomfortable. There are many products available over the counter to help with this such as creams and gels, but it’s better to get to the source and have your hormone levels checked by a healthcare professional. (source)
Testosterone also affects libido in both sexes. Low testosterone in men and women results in reduced interest in sex. (source)
6. Irregular Periods
A normal menstrual cycle is between 21 and 35 days. If you’re lucky, you can predict it like clockwork. If you find your period arrives at random times or not at all some months (ruling out pregnancy), it could be due to low estrogen and progesterone. Menopause and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) are possible causes for this. (source)
There are an infinite amount of triggers for headaches and migraines. For some women, low estrogen levels bring them on. As you age, you are more prone to regular headaches as your estrogen level decreases.
If you’re worried about headaches as a result of hormonal imbalance, try keeping a diary and see if they occur at certain times of your menstrual cycle or if they’re associated with a food or atmospheric trigger. (source)
8. Mood Swings, Depression and Anxiety
Mood swings, depression and anxiety can be scary for the person experiencing them and those around them. This is especially true when they seem to come out of the blue.
If you’ve taken contraceptive pills, you’ll be aware that they can have a massive influence on your mood. This is due to estrogen’s effect on your brain chemicals. Have your hormone levels checked by your doctor as you could be relieved by the explanation. (source)
9. Weight Gain
We all want to say that weight gain is out of our hands and is simply a hormonal issue – it means we don’t have to deal with it. However, there is a little truth in this. Hormonal imbalances won’t make you gain significant weight if you don’t change your food intake but they can make you hungry and cause cravings that are hard to resist. Not only this, but the mood effects described in point #9 can lead to comfort eating.
An underactive thyroid can slow your metabolism and result in a weight gain of 10-15 pounds on average. If you’ve noticed the number on the scale go up and you’re not sure why, have your levels checked. (source)
10. Breast Changes
It may seem strange but estrogen levels can change the characteristics of your breasts. High estrogen results in tender, sore breasts as well as lumps, fibroids and cysts. Low estrogen, such as during and after the menopause will make your breast tissue less dense.
Of course, you must always be aware of the risk of breast cancer, so if you notice something out-of-the ordinary, make an appointment with your doctor.
What Should You Do About a Hormonal Imbalance?
If you notice some of the signs of hormonal imbalance listed above, the first step is to make an appointment with your doctor. He or she can do a quick blood test and let you know exactly what’s going on in your body.
If you are diagnosed with a hormonal imbalance, the treatment will depend on the exact condition. It may be a daily hormone tablet such as with hypothyroidism, a change in contraceptive pill, or lifestyle changes. (source)
If you are overweight, losing a few pounds can help keep your estrogen balanced. Cutting out soy can also help. If you have a disturbance in melatonin, you can take a nightly tablet or try to alter your sleep habits to implement a regular pattern. (source)
Have you recognised yourself in any of these 10 signs that mean you may have a hormonal imbalance? If so, a solution may be as easy as a trip to your local doctor. The symptoms of hormonal imbalance can have a big impact on your life so there’s no need to suffer on – get it checked!