Hormonal imbalance: Symptoms, Causes, Tests and diagnosis, Treatment and Complications

Hormones are chemical messengers of your body that are produced in the endocrine glands and travel around your bloodstream to control the function of tissues and organs.

Updated: October 30, 2019


Hormones are chemical messengers of your body that are produced in the endocrine glands and travel around your bloodstream to control the function of tissues and organs.
They help control many major processes of your body, including metabolism and appetite, heart rate, sleep cycles, general growth and development, mood and stress levels, sexual function and reproduction, and body temperature.
When you have a hormonal imbalance, you have too much or too little of a certain hormone. Even a small change in any of the hormone can have serious effects throughout your whole body. Hormonal balance is vital to a healthy, cancer-free mind and body. But it can be disrupted in many ways. Some hormone levels fluctuate throughout your lifetime and may just be the result of natural aging, other changes occur when your endocrine glands does not function properly.
Hormone fluctuations occur naturally during puberty, menopause and perimenopause. Hormone imbalance may also be caused by toxins or an unbalanced lifestyle. Understanding the causes of hormone imbalance can help us to find ways to prevent them, and at the same time, feel better, think better.
Both men and women can be affected by imbalances in insulin, steroids, growth hormones, and adrenaline. Women may also experience imbalances in estrogen and progesterone levels, while men are more likely to experience imbalances in testosterone levels.

Symptoms of a hormonal imbalance:

There are several symptoms that could signal a hormonal imbalance as each and every hormone in your body plays an integral role in your overall health. Your symptoms will depend on which hormones or glands aren't functioning properly.
Symptoms in both men and women who are affected by common hormonal conditions include:

  • weight gain
  • fatigue
  • dry skin
  • puffy face
  • increased sensitivity to cold or heat
  • constipation or more frequent bowel movements
  • muscle weakness
  • frequent urination
  • increased thirst
  • increased hunger
  • unexplained weight loss (sometimes sudden)
  • increased or decreased heart rate
  • sweating
  • muscle aches, tenderness, and stiffness
  • pain, stiffness, or swelling in your joints
  • thinning hair or fine, brittle hair
  • decreased sex drive
  • nervousness, anxiety, or irritability
  • depression
  • blurred vision
  • infertility
  • a fatty hump between the shoulders
  • rounded face
  • purple or pink stretch marks

Symptoms in women:

The most common hormonal imbalance is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) in women. Your normal hormonal cycle also changes naturally during:

  • puberty
  • pregnancy
  • breastfeeding
  • menopause

Symptoms of a hormonal imbalance specific to women include:

  • heavy or irregular periods, including missed periods, stopped period, or frequent period
  • hirsutism, or excessive hair on the face, chin, or other parts of the body
  • acne on the face, chest, or upper back
  • weight gain or trouble losing weight
  • thinning hair or hair loss
  • darkening of skin, especially along neck creases, in the groin, and underneath breasts
  • skin tags
  • vaginal dryness
  • vaginal atrophy
  • pain during sex
  • night sweats

Symptoms in men:

The hormone testosterone plays an important role in male. It can cause a variety of symptoms if you aren't producing enough testosterone. These include:

  • development of breast tissue
  • breast tenderness
  • loss of muscle mass
  • erectile dysfunction
  • decreased sex drive or libido
  • infertility
  • difficulty concentrating
  • decrease in beard and body hair growth
  • osteoporosis, the loss of bone mass
  • hot flashes

Symptoms in children:

The time period when boys and girls start producing sex hormones is called as puberty. Many children with delayed puberty will go on to experience normal puberty, but some have a condition called hypogonadism. Symptoms of hypogonadism include:
In boys the symptoms include:

  • no development in muscle mass
  • voice doesn't deepen
  • body hair grows sparsely
  • excessive growth of the arms and legs in relation to the trunk of the body
  • impaired penis and testicular growth
  • gynecomastia which is the development of breast tissue

In girls the symptoms include:

  • period doesn't begin
  • no development in breast tissue
  • growth rate doesn't increase

Causes of a hormonal imbalance:

There are many possible causes for a hormonal imbalance. Causes vary depending on which hormones or glands are affected. Common causes of hormonal imbalance include:

  • diabetes either it may be type 1 or type 2 diabetes
  • hyperglycemia (overproduction of glucagon)
  • hypoglycemia (more insulin produced than there is glucose in the blood)
  • over- or underproduction of the parathyroid hormone
  • hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid
  • hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid
  • hyperfunctioning thyroid nodules
  • thyroiditis
  • Cushing syndrome(high levels of the hormone cortisol)
  • Addison's disease (low levels of cortisol and aldosterone)
  • endocrine gland injury
  • hormone therapy
  • hypogonadism
  • tumors (benign or cancerous)
  • congenital adrenal hyperplasia (low levels of cortisol)
  • medications
  • cancer treatments
  • iodine deficiency (goiters)
  • hereditary pancreatitis
  • eating disorders, poor diet and nutrition
  • being overweight
  • chronic or extreme stress
  • adrenal insufficiency
  • pituitary tumor
  • injury or trauma
  • severe allergic reactions or infections
  • Turner syndrome (females with only one functioning X chromosome)
  • Prader-Willi syndrome
  • anorexia
  • birth control medications
  • phytoestrogens, naturally-occurring plant estrogens found in soy products
  • exposure to toxins, pollutants, and endocrine disrupting chemicals, including pesticides and herbicid
  • Many causes of hormonal imbalance in women are unique and related to reproductive hormones. Common causes include:
  • menstruation
  • perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause
  • pregnancy
  • breastfeeding
  • Medical conditions causing irregular hormonal imbalances in women include:
  • PCOS
  • primary ovarian insufficiency (POI)
  • ovarian cancer
  • hormone replacement or birth control medications
  • premature menopause

Tests and Diagnosis of Hormonal Imbalance:

There is no single test available to diagnose a hormonal imbalance. Yo may need to under go multiple test starting with a physical examination.
Inform your doctor about all medications, vitamins, and supplements you are currently taking. During the physical examination you will be asked numerous questions related to hormonal imbalance by your doctor. These include:

  • How often are you experiencing symptoms?
  • Does anything help relieve your symptoms?
  • When was your last period?
  • Are you planning to get pregnant?
  • Have you lost or gained weight recently?
  • Do you have trouble getting or maintaining an erection?
  • Do you have vaginal dryness or pain during sex?
  • Are you more stressed than usual?

Your doctor may suggest one or more diagnostic tests depending on your symptoms.

Blood test for Hormonal Imbalance:

Most hormones can be detected in the blood. A blood test can be done to check your thyroid, estrogen, testosterone, and cortisol levels.

Urine test for Hormonal Imbalance:

Some of the hormones abnormalities can be detected by a urine test which include cortisol. You will be asked to collect your urine over a 24 hour period for the urine test to detect excessive production of cortisol.
You may try a home testing kit when you start experiencing symptoms of menopause. Home testing kits measure follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) in your urine. FSH levels increase when you enter menopause, but levels also rise and fall during a normal menstrual cycle. This test can give you an indication of whether menopause has started.
Home testing kits are also available to check if you become pregnant and experiencing the symptoms.

Pelvic exam

Your doctor may perform a pap smear to feel for any unusual lumps, cysts, or tumors if you are female and your scrotum for any lumps or abnormalities will be checked if you are male.

Ultrasound:

An ultrasound machine uses sound waves to look inside your body. Doctors may use an ultrasound to get images of the uterus, ovaries, testicles and thyroid gland.

Imaging tests:

Computerized tomography scans (CT scan)or magnetic resonance imaging scans (MRI)can provide images of your pituitary and adrenal glands to detect abnormalities, such as tumors.
Sometimes additional tests are required which include biopsy, sperm count and thyroid scan.

Treatment options for hormonal imbalance:

Treatment for a hormonal imbalance will depend on its cause. Common treatment options include:

Estrogen therapy:

A low dose of estrogen is recommended if you are experiencing uncomfortable symptoms of menopause like hot flashes. This is because the estrogen levels will be low during menopause. So to balance the hormone you will be given estrogen as a replacement. However, make sure to discuss the risks and benefits of hormone replacement therapy with your doctor before starting it.

Vaginal estrogen:

Try applying an estrogen cream, tablet, or ring if you are experiencing vaginal dryness or pain during sex. This local therapy treatment avoids many 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 menstrual cycles if you are trying to get pregnant. Birth control pill, birth control patch, birth control shot, vaginal ring and intrauterine device (IUD) are some of the kind of hormonal birth control.
It may also help improve acne and reduce extra hair on the face and body.

Anti-androgen medications:

Androgens are male sex hormones that are present in both women and men. High androgen levels in women will have hair loss, facial hair growth and acne. To prevent this you may choose to take anti-androgen medication that blocks the effect of androgens.

Metformin:

Metformin is a type 2 diabetes medication that is used to help manage or lower blood sugar levels. This may help some women with PCOS symptoms by lowering androgen levels and encouraging ovulation.

Testosterone therapy:

Testosterone supplements can reduce the symptoms of low testosterone in men. In adolescents with delayed puberty, it stimulates the start of puberty. It comes as an injectable, patch, and gel.

Thyroid hormone therapy:

The synthetic thyroid hormone levothyroxine can bring hormone levels back into balance in people with hypothyroidism.

Flibanserin:

This is the only FDA-approved medication for the treatment of low sexual desire in premenopausal women which has some serious side effects. Talk to your doctor to see if this medication could be right for you before starting it.

Eflornithine:

This is a prescription cream recommended specifically for excessive facial hair in women. Applied topically to the skin, it helps slow down growth of new hair, but doesn't get rid of existing hair.

Clomiphene and letrozole:

These medications help stimulate ovulation in people with PCOS who are trying to become pregnant. Women with PCOS and infertility may also be given 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.

Complications of Hormonal imbalance:

Left untreated hormonal imbalance can lead to many serious health complications. These include:

Acne:

Acne is often associated with pubescent hormonal changes, but there is actually a lifelong relationship between acne and hormones. The menstrual cycle is one of the most common triggers for acne to develop. Acne develops the week before you get your period and then clears up in many cases.
A hormonal test is advised for women who have acne in combination with other symptoms, such as irregular periods and excess facial or body hair. Both girls and boys have high levels of androgens during puberty, which overstimulate the oil glands resulting in acne. This is why acne is so common at that time. However, androgen levels typically settle down in the early 20s.

Weight gain:

Hormones play an integral role in metabolism and your body's ability to use energy. Hormone disorders like hypothyroidism and Cushing syndrome can cause you to become overweight or obese. People with hypothyroidism have low levels of thyroid hormones and their metabolism doesn't work as well as it should leading to weight gain. People with hypothyroidism can still gain weight even with diet.
People with Cushing syndrome have high levels of cortisol in their blood leading to an increase in appetite and an increased fat storage.  As the metabolism slows down during menopause, many women gain weight in this condition. The only way to treat weight gain from a hormone disorder is to treat the underlying condition.

PCOS:

One of the leading causes of infertility in women is PCOS. The hormonal imbalance caused by PCOS interferes with ovulation. You can't get pregnant if you are not ovulating. PCOS can cause problems during pregnancy, for both you and your baby. The risk of miscarriage, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, cesarean section, high birth weight and admission to and time spent in the ICU are much more higher .

Hypothyroidism:

Babies born to women with untreated hypothyroidism have a higher risk of birth defects. This includes serious intellectual and developmental problems.

Hair loss:

Hormonal changes and imbalances can sometimes cause temporary hair loss. This is often related to pregnancy, childbirth, or the onset of menopause in women. An over or underproduction of thyroid hormones can also cause hair loss.
However, hair loss in men especially, male pattern baldness, is hereditary and unrelated to hormonal changes.

Other complications:

Hormone imbalances are associated with many chronic, or long-term, health conditions. Without proper treatment, you could be at risk of several serious medical conditions, including:

  • diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • heart disease
  • neuropathy
  • endometrial cancer
  • osteoporosis, or bone loss
  • loss of muscle mass
  • breast cancer
  • obesity
  • sleep apnea
  • kidney damage
  • depression and anxiety
  • infertility
  • urinary incontinence
  • sexual dysfunction
  • goiter

These complications can be fatal at time if left untreated. So it is important to seek treatment as soon as possible.


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