A wide range of signs, including weight gain and loss, can signal a hormonal imbalance. Many conditions that cause hormonal imbalance can be treated.
Sex and gender exist on spectrums and your gender identity may not align with these terms. Your doctor can better help you understand your specific circumstances.
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.
Some hormone levels fluctuate throughout your lifetime and may just be the result of natural aging. But other changes occur when your endocrine glands get the recipe wrong.
Read on to learn more about hormonal imbalances and how they might be affecting your health.
Your hormones play an integral role in your overall health. As a result, there’s a broad range of signs and symptoms that could signal a hormonal imbalance. Your signs or symptoms will depend on which hormones or glands are not working properly.
Common hormonal conditions affecting people of all genders could cause any of the following signs or symptoms:
- weight gain
- 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. Having one or a few of them doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a hormonal imbalance.
Some of these symptoms may also reflect other chronic conditions. So, if you find yourself dealing with any notable changes in your body or energy levels, it’s a good idea to talk with your doctor.
Signs or symptoms in people who were assigned female at birth (AFAB)
In people with ovaries, the most common consequence of hormonal imbalance is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
Your hormonal cycle also changes naturally during these stages:
Symptoms of a hormonal imbalance specific to AFAB people include:
- heavy or irregular periods, including missed periods, stopped periods, or frequent periods
- hirsutism, or excessive hair on the face, chin, or other parts of the body
- acne on the face, chest, or upper back
- hair loss
- hyperpigmentation, especially along neck creases, in the groin, and underneath the breasts
- skin tags
- vaginal dryness
- vaginal atrophy
- pain during sex
- night sweats
It’s important to note that many of these issues, including hirsutism, can affect people of other sexes, too.
Signs or symptoms in people who were assigned male at birth (AMAB)
Testosterone plays an important role in development. If you aren’t producing enough testosterone, it can cause a variety of symptoms.
Symptoms of hormonal imbalance in AMAB people 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
It’s important to note that AFAB folks can also experience testosterone imbalances.
Signs or symptoms in children
Children start producing sex hormones during puberty. Many children with delayed puberty will go on to experience typical puberty, but some have a condition called hypogonadism.
Individuals 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
- menstruation that doesn’t begin
- breast tissue that isn’t developing
- the growth rate doesn’t increase
A hormonal imbalance has many possible causes. They can 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 hormonal imbalances may initially cause some of the conditions below, having these conditions can also lead to further hormonal imbalances:
- type 1 and type 2 diabetes
- 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 AFAB people
Many causes of hormonal imbalance in AFAB people are related to reproductive hormones. Common causes include:
- primary ovarian insufficiency, which is also known as premature menopause
- hormone medications, such as birth control pills
There’s no single test available to help doctors 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.
A doctor can request a blood test to check your thyroid and your levels of estrogen, testosterone, and cortisol.
If you have a uterus, your doctor may perform a Pap smear to feel for any unusual lumps, cysts, or tumors.
If you have testicles, your doctor may check your scrotum for any lumps or abnormalities.
An ultrasound machine uses sound waves to look inside your body. Doctors may request an ultrasound to get images of the uterus, ovaries, testicles, thyroid, or pituitary gland.
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. These kits are 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 typical menstrual cycle. Other factors, such as the use of hormonal birth control, can also affect your FSH levels.
As such, these kits can indicate that menopause may have started, but they can’t tell you conclusively. A healthcare professional’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 have not received FDA approval.
Regardless of which at-home test you choose, it’s important to discuss your test results with your healthcare professional. 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.
If you’re experiencing hot flashes or other uncomfortable symptoms of menopause, your doctor may recommend a low dose of estrogen.
Be sure to discuss the risks and benefits of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) with your doctor. If you don’t already have one, 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.
This local therapy 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:
Some types of hormonal birth control may also help improve acne and reduce extra hair on the face and body.
Androgens are male sex hormones that are present in people of all genders. High androgen levels can be treated with medication that blocks the effects of androgens.
These effects include:
- hair loss
- facial hair growth
One androgen closely tied to hair growth and loss is testosterone. A
Testosterone supplements can reduce the symptoms of low testosterone. 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.
Metformin is a type 2 diabetes medication that may help some individuals with PCOS symptoms. The FDA has not approved it to treat PCOS, but it might help lower androgen levels and encourage ovulation.
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 people. 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 with your doctor to see if either one could be right for you.
This prescription cream is designed specifically for excessive facial hair. Applied topically to the skin, it helps slow new hair growth, but it does not get rid of existing hair.
Many nutritional supplements on the market claim to treat menopause and hormonal 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, however.
Some people find that yoga helps ease 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. If your doctor has recommended it, a reduction in body weight may help regulate menstrual cycles and increase the chances of getting pregnant. Weight loss may also 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 flash triggers when possible. 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:
- upper back
Acne is often associated with the hormonal changes of puberty. 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 individuals, acne develops the week before they get their period and then clears up.
Dermatologists recommend hormonal testing for people 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.
Children of all genders 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.
Hormones play an integral role in metabolism and your body’s ability to use energy. Hormone conditions, such as Cushing syndrome, can cause you to become overweight or develop obesity.
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.
Slight hormone imbalances can happen during menopause. During this transition, many people gain weight because their metabolisms slow down. You may find that even though you’re eating and exercising like you usually do, you still gain weight.
The only way to treat weight gain from a hormone disorder is to treat the underlying condition.
During a typical pregnancy, your body goes through major hormonal changes. This is different from 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. If your doctor recommends it, losing weight can make a big difference in your fertility. Prescription medications are also 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
Becoming pregnant while living with PCOS does not mean an individual will definitely deal with any of the above problems. Talking with your doctor and following their advice is the best way to have a safe pregnancy and delivery.
Pregnancy and hypothyroidism
According to 2018 research, babies born to parents with untreated hypothyroidism are more likely to have development issues. This includes serious intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Managing your hypothyroidism along with your doctor’s advice can help lessen these risks.
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 AFAB folks, 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:
- type 1 and type 2 diabetes
- diabetes insipidus
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- heart disease
- sleep apnea
- kidney damage
- depression and anxiety
- endometrial cancer
- breast cancer
- loss of muscle mass
- urinary incontinence
- sexual dysfunction
Hormones are responsible for many of your body’s major processes. When hormones become unbalanced, the symptoms can be extremely varied.
Hormonal imbalance can cause a variety of complications, so it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible. Talking with your doctor as soon as you notice any changes in your body or energy levels is a key step in treating a hormonal imbalance early.