Certain symptoms like abnormal hair growth, headaches, and skin changes, may indicate a hormonal imbalance. Recognizing these symptoms and talking to your doctor can be the first step in getting treatment and restoring balance to your body.
Your hormone levels go through lots of changes. Whether in the span of a month or across different stages in your life, the hormonal balance in your body is often in flux.
Sometimes, however, this balance may be off. Too much or too little of any hormone can affect your overall health. Fertility and reproductive function can also be impacted.
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What are hormones?
Hormones are often referred to as your body’s “chemical messengers.” They are chemical substances produced by endocrine glands, organs, and tissues around your body.
Hormones have a huge influence on your overall health. They travel through your bloodstream to tissues and organs, transmitting information that tells your body what to do.
Hormones play a role in almost every system in your body. They affect processes like:
Growth and development Blood pressure regulation Blood sugar regulation Body temperature Metabolism Mood Sex drive Energy levels Sleep
Hormones are also crucial to fertility and reproduction. They help regulate ovulation and influence your ability to conceive and maintain pregnancy. Fertility hormones include:
Estrogen, which is crucial for ovarian function Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which stimulates egg growth in the ovaries Luteinizing hormone (LH), which triggers ovulation Progesterone, which is necessary for maintaining pregnancy Signs of a hormonal imbalance
Your hormone levels fluctuate naturally. Levels of fertility hormones like estrogen and progesterone, for example, rise and fall depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle. Similarly, hormone levels fluctuate if you’re pregnant, postpartum, breastfeeding, or going through menopause.
Sometimes, however, your endocrine glands can produce too much or too little of a hormone (or hormones). When this happens, the overall balance can be thrown off, resulting in a hormonal imbalance.
Many things could cause a hormonal imbalance, including:
Even small changes in your hormone levels can significantly affect your overall health. Without treatment, hormonal imbalances can cause several conditions, such as:
Type 1 and type 2 diabetes Thyroid disease, including hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone levels) and hyperthyroidism (high thyroid hormone levels) Infertility Depression Anxiety
If you’re experiencing the following symptoms, you may be suffering from a hormonal imbalance.
Problems with your period may be a sign of a hormonal imbalance. Abnormal periods can indicate imbalances caused by hormones like estrogen, prolactin, or the hormones produced by your thyroid.
may be considered abnormal if: Your flow is very heavy Your menstrual cycle is irregular (in general, this is defined as having a cycle that is less than 24 days or more than 38 days, or it varies by more than 20 days from month to month) You have painful periods You have missed periods, or your period has stopped altogether, but you aren’t pregnant You experience bleeding outside of your period >> RELATED: Demystifying Menstruation: What Is Your Period Trying to Tell You? Hirsutism
Hirsutism is excessive hair growth on places such as the face, chin, neck, chest, stomach, lower back, butt, or thighs. Body hair stemming from this condition is thick and dark, so if you have lighter or finer hair on parts of your body, it’s probably not a sign of hirsutism.
Hirsutism is linked to androgen hormones and can occur if your body overproduces these hormones or becomes more sensitive to them. Hirsutism can also be caused by PCOS, a condition that is also associated with hormonal imbalances.
Hormonal acne can be pretty common around the time of your period. No matter your age, you may develop acne in the week before your period, as your hormone levels fluctuate. In these cases, the skin usually clears up soon after.
In some cases, however, acne can also be a sign of an underlying hormonal imbalance. It can also be a symptom of PCOS, as higher-than-normal levels of hormones like androgen can make skin oilier and cause breakouts.
When acne often occurs in combination with other symptoms, such as abnormal periods and excessive hair growth (hirsutism), you may want to talk with your doctor about testing for a hormonal imbalance.
Hair loss on your head can occur at stages of your life when your hormones fluctuate dramatically, such as during pregnancy, postpartum, or menopause.
Hair loss can also be indicative of a hormonal imbalance. One of the most common causes is an imbalance in the hormones your thyroid produces: if these hormone levels are too low or too high, it can lead to hair loss.
Hair loss can also be a symptom of PCOS, which can cause a variety of imbalances in your hormones.
Vaginal dryness can cause irritation, burning, and pain during sex. It can also be related to vaginal atrophy, which most commonly occurs during menopause.
If you’re experiencing vaginal dryness, lower-than-normal estrogen levels are often the source of the problem. Estrogen levels can drop after childbirth, while breastfeeding, during cancer treatment, or during menopause. Estrogen levels can also be low due to hormonal birth control.
Pain during sex
If you experience pain during sex, it may also be a sign of a hormonal imbalance. Pain during sex can be caused by vaginal dryness or vaginal atrophy. Both of these conditions may be related to low estrogen levels.
Fluctuating hormone levels can be a source of chronic headaches and migraines. More specifically, falling estrogen levels can trigger these symptoms, as estrogen controls chemicals in the brain that affect pain sensation.
People who experience chronic headaches or migraine related to hormonal imbalances may experience the symptoms:
Right before their period During pregnancy During menopause While taking hormonal birth control While undergoing hormone replacement therapy Hyperpigmentation
Hyperpigmentation refers to darker patches of skin around your body. These patches are often the result of increased melanin. Melanin is regulated, in part, by hormones like estrogen and progesterone.
Estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuate at different stages, including during your menstrual cycle and during pregnancy. Hyperpigmentation can occur when changes in hormone levels increase melanin synthesis and may be a sign that your hormonal balance is off.
What to do if you think you have a hormonal imbalance
Experiencing one or a combination of symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean you have a hormonal imbalance. Nevertheless, you may want to consider checking with a doctor to see if your symptoms are indicative of something happening in your body.
At-home fertility testing kits like Oova can give you quantitative hormone level readings. If you are using an at-home testing kit and notice patterns that seem off, along with symptoms, it’s a good idea to consult with your doctor, too.
>> RELATED: What do my Oova results mean? Common hormone patterns Talking to your doctor
If you are looking for support or treatment for a suspected imbalance, you can start with your primary healthcare provider. As a general practitioner, this type of doctor can diagnose hormonal imbalances and related conditions, and can help you manage them.
At your initial visits, be sure to describe all of the symptoms you’ve been having and their timelines. The course of action that your doctor recommends will depend on the particulars of your experience.
Your doctor will likely run blood tests, as most hormones can be detected in the blood. They may also perform a pelvic exam or ultrasound, or take x-rays and MRIs.
Your doctor may refer you to an endocrinologist. Endocrinologists are healthcare providers specialized in endocrinology, or the study of hormone conditions. If you’re trying to conceive, you may also be referred to a reproductive endocrinologist (REI), OB/GYN physicians specializing in endocrinology as it relates to fertility.
Treating hormone imbalances
Depending on your specific case, many treatment options are available to address a hormonal imbalance. Some are medical, such as hormone therapy or hormonal birth control. Others are non-medical: changes to your diet, exercise habits, or lifestyle may also be able to influence symptoms and bring balance to your hormone levels.
The bottom line
It’s important to listen to what your body is telling you. After all, you know your body better than anyone—you know what feels right, and what feels off. If these symptoms sound familiar to you, consider talking to your doctor about what’s been happening. Getting to the bottom of things and establishing a plan of action is key to helping treat hormonal imbalances.