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Hormones are your body’s chemical messengers.
Produced in the endocrine glands, these powerful chemicals travel around your bloodstream telling tissues and organs what to do. They help control many of your body’s major processes, including metabolism and reproduction.
When you have a hormonal imbalance, you have too much or too little of a certain hormone. Even tiny changes can have serious effects throughout your whole body.
Think of hormones like a cake recipe. Too much or too little of any one ingredient affects the final product.
While some hormone levels fluctuate throughout your lifetime and may just be the result of natural aging, other changes occur when your endocrine glands get the recipe wrong.
Read on to learn more about hormonal imbalances.
Your hormones play an integral role in your overall health. As a result, there’s a broad range of signs or symptoms that could signal a hormonal imbalance. Your signs or symptoms will depend on which hormones or glands aren’t working properly.
Common hormonal conditions affecting both men and women could cause any of the following signs or symptoms:
- weight gain
- a hump of fat between the shoulders
- unexplained, and sometimes sudden, weight loss
- muscle weakness
- muscle aches, tenderness, and stiffness
- pain, stiffness, or swelling in your joints
- increased or decreased heart rate
- increased sensitivity to cold or heat
- constipation or more frequent bowel movements
- frequent urination
- increased thirst
- increased hunger
- decreased sex drive
- nervousness, anxiety, or irritability
- blurred vision
- thinning hair or fine, brittle hair
- dry skin
- puffy face
- rounded face
- purple or pink stretch marks
Keep in mind that these symptoms are nonspecific, and having them doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a hormonal imbalance.
Signs or symptoms in females
In females of reproductive age, the most common hormonal imbalance is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
Your normal hormonal cycle also changes naturally during these stages:
Symptoms of a hormonal imbalance specific to females include:
- heavy or irregular periods, including missed periods, a stopped period, or a frequent period
- hirsutism, or excessive hair on the face, chin, or other parts of the body
- acne on the face, chest, or upper back
- hair loss
- darkening of the skin, especially along neck creases, in the groin, and underneath the breasts
- skin tags
- vaginal dryness
- vaginal atrophy
- pain during sex
- night sweats
Signs or symptoms in males
Testosterone plays an important role in male development. If you aren’t producing enough testosterone, it can cause a variety of symptoms.
Symptoms of hormonal imbalance in adult males include:
- gynecomastia, or the development of breast tissue
- breast tenderness
- erectile dysfunction (ED)
- decrease in beard growth and body hair growth
- loss of muscle mass
- loss of bone mass, otherwise known as osteoporosis
- difficulty concentrating
- hot flashes
Signs or symptoms in children
Boys with hypogonadism may experience:
- lack of development of muscle mass
- a voice that doesn’t deepen
- body hair that grows sparsely
- impaired penis and testicular growth
- excessive growth of the arms and legs in relation to the trunk of the body
For girls with hypogonadism:
There are many possible causes of a hormonal imbalance. Causes differ depending on which hormones or glands are affected. Common causes of hormonal imbalance include:
- hormone therapy
- cancer treatments such as chemotherapy
- tumors, whether cancerous or benign
- pituitary tumors
- eating disorders
- injury or trauma
While the conditions below may be initially caused by hormonal imbalances, having the conditions can also lead to further hormonal imbalances:
- diabetes (type 1 and type 2)
- diabetes insipidus
- hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid
- hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid
- hyperfunctioning thyroid nodules
- Cushing syndrome, or high levels of cortisol
- congenital adrenal hyperplasia, which causes low levels of cortisol and aldosterone
- Addison’s disease
Causes unique to women
Many causes of hormonal imbalance in women are related to reproductive hormones. Common causes include:
There’s no single test available for doctors to diagnose a hormonal imbalance. Begin by making an appointment with your doctor for a physical exam.
Be prepared to describe your symptoms and the timeline along which they’ve occurred. Bring a list of all medications, vitamins, and supplements you’re currently taking.
Your doctor may ask you questions such as:
- How often are you experiencing symptoms?
- Does anything help relieve your symptoms?
- Have you lost or gained weight recently?
- Are you more stressed than usual?
- When was your last period?
- Are you planning to get pregnant?
- Do you have trouble getting or maintaining an erection?
- Do you have vaginal dryness or pain during sex?
Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may suggest one or more diagnostic tests. You can also request that your doctor perform these tests.
Your doctor will send a sample of your blood to a lab for testing. Most hormones can be detected in the blood.
If you’re female, your doctor may perform a Pap smear to feel for any unusual lumps, cysts, or tumors.
If you’re male, your doctor may check your scrotum for any lumps or abnormalities.
Sometimes more advanced tests are required. These can include:
If you’re experiencing symptoms of a hormonal imbalance, you may also consider using a home testing kit. They’re available for a variety of conditions.
Home testing kits for menopause measure follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) in your urine. FSH levels increase when you enter menopause.
Levels also rise and fall during a normal menstrual cycle. Other factors, such as the use of hormonal birth control, can also affect your FSH levels.
As such, these kits can give you an indication of whether menopause has started, but they can’t tell you conclusively. Your healthcare provider’s confirmation may be necessary.
Home testing kits typically use saliva or blood from the fingertip to measure your levels of cortisol, key thyroid hormones, and sex hormones such as progesterone and testosterone. Some tests may require a urine sample.
These kits require you to send the sample off to a lab. Your test results are usually available online within 5 to 9 business days.
The company LetsGetChecked provides at-home tests that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, many at-home tests haven’t received FDA approval.
Regardless of which at-home test you choose, it’s important to discuss your test results with your healthcare provider and let them know if you’re concerned about certain symptoms or a possible diagnosis.
Treatment for a hormonal imbalance will depend on what’s causing it. Some common treatment options are described below.
Be sure to discuss the risks and benefits of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) with your doctor. If you don’t already have a provider, you can browse doctors in your area through the Healthline FindCare tool.
If you’re experiencing vaginal dryness or pain during sex, you may want to try applying an estrogen cream, tablet, or ring.
Using this local therapy treatment helps eliminate many of the risks associated with systemic estrogen, or estrogen that travels throughout the bloodstream to the appropriate organ.
Hormonal birth control
Hormonal birth control can help regulate your menstrual cycles. Types of hormonal birth control include the:
It may also help improve acne and reduce extra hair on the face and body.
Androgens are male sex hormones that are present in both women and men. Women with high androgen levels may choose to take medication that blocks the effects of androgens.
These effects include:
- hair loss
- facial hair growth
Testosterone supplements can reduce the symptoms of low testosterone in men. In adolescents with delayed puberty, it stimulates the start of puberty. It’s available in many forms, including injections, a patch, and gel.
Thyroid hormone therapy
If you have hypothyroidism, the synthetic thyroid hormone levothyroxine (Levoxyl, Synthroid, Unithroid) can bring hormone levels back into balance.
Flibanserin (Addyi) and bremelanotide (Vyleesi)
Addyi and Vyleesi are the only medications that are FDA approved for the treatment of low sexual desire in premenopausal women. Addyi is a pill, and Vyleesi is a self-administered injectable medication.
These drugs may come with some serious side effects, such as severe nausea and changes in blood pressure. Talk to your doctor to see if either one could be right for you.
This prescription cream is designed specifically for excessive facial hair in women. Applied topically to the skin, it helps slow new hair growth, but it doesn’t get rid of existing hair.
There are many nutritional supplements on the market that claim to treat menopause and hormone imbalance. However, few of them are backed up by scientific evidence.
Many of these supplements contain plant-derived hormones. These are sometimes called “bioidentical” hormones because they chemically resemble the body’s natural hormones. There’s no evidence to suggest that they work better than regular hormone therapy, though.
Some people find that yoga helps treat symptoms of hormonal imbalance. Yoga is excellent for your strength, flexibility, and balance. It may also aid in weight loss, which can help regulate your hormones.
You can also make the following lifestyle changes:
- Lose weight. A
10 percent reductionin body weight in women may help make your periods more regular and increase your chances of getting pregnant. Weight loss in men may help improve erectile function.
- Eat well. A balanced diet is an important part of overall health.
- Decrease vaginal discomfort. Use lubes or moisturizers free of parabens, glycerin, and petroleum.
- Avoid hot flashes. Try to identify things that commonly trigger your hot flashes, such as warm temperatures, spicy foods, or hot beverages.
- Remove unwanted hair. If you have excess facial or body hair, you can use hair removal cream, laser hair removal, or electrolysis.
The primary cause of acne is excess oil production, which leads to clogged pores. Acne is most common in areas with many oil glands, including the:
Acne is often associated with pubescent hormonal changes, but there’s actually a lifelong relationship between acne and hormones.
Acne and menstruation
The menstrual cycle is one of the most common acne triggers. For many women, acne develops the week before they get their period and then clears up.
Dermatologists recommend hormonal testing for women who have acne in combination with other symptoms, such as irregular periods and excess facial or body hair.
Acne and androgens
Androgens contribute to acne by overstimulating the oil glands.
Both girls and boys have high levels of androgens during puberty, which is why acne is so common at that time. Androgen levels typically settle down in a person’s early 20s.
People with Cushing syndrome have high levels of cortisol in their blood. This leads to an increase in appetite and fat storage.
Hypothyroidism, if the condition is severe, can also lead to weight gain.
During menopause, many women gain weight because the metabolism slows down. You may find that even though you’re eating and exercising like normal, you still gain weight.
The only way to treat weight gain from a hormone disorder is to treat the underlying condition.
During a normal, healthy pregnancy, your body goes through major hormonal changes. This is different than a hormonal imbalance.
Pregnancy and PCOS
Hormonal imbalances, such as PCOS, are among the leading causes of infertility. With PCOS, the hormonal imbalance interferes with ovulation. You can’t get pregnant if you’re not ovulating.
Pregnancy is still possible if you have PCOS. Losing weight can make a big difference in your fertility. There are also prescription medications available that can stimulate ovulation and increase your chances of becoming pregnant.
In vitro fertilization (IVF) is also an option if medication doesn’t work. As a last resort, surgery can temporarily restore ovulation.
PCOS can cause problems during pregnancy for both you and your baby. There are higher rates of:
- gestational diabetes
- cesarean delivery
- high birth weight
- admission to and time spent in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)
Pregnancy and hypothyroidism
Most hair loss, such as male pattern baldness, is hereditary and unrelated to hormonal changes. However, hormonal changes and imbalances can sometimes cause temporary hair loss.
In women, this is often related to:
- the onset of menopause
An overproduction or underproduction of thyroid hormones can also cause hair loss.
Hormone imbalances are associated with many chronic, or long-term, health conditions. Without proper treatment, you could be at risk for several serious medical conditions, including:
Hormones are responsible for many of your body’s major processes. When hormones get out of balance, the symptoms can be extremely varied.
Hormonal imbalance can cause a variety of serious complications, so it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible.