The symptoms of hormonal imbalance can make both men and women very uncomfortable but the problem usually can be treated successfully. Learn more here.
What is hormonal imbalance?
Produced by your adrenal glands and your testes in men and ovaries in women, hormones enter the bloodstream and travel to organs with instructions. These signals regulate your appetite, heart rate, sleep cycle, reproductive cycles and sexual function, growth, mood, and body temperature.
Because hormones play such important roles in your body, even small shifts from required levels can affect you.
What causes hormonal imbalance?
Your glands may not be functioning well because of an ongoing problem, or you may be in a rocky transition. There are many possible causes of hormonal imbalance. They include chronic or extreme stress, diabetes, an under- or overactive thyroid, obesity, poor nutrition, medication with hormones like the birth control pill, or hormone replacement therapy (HRT), abusing steroids, a pituitary tumor, cancer, or even benign tumors and cysts that affect your glands, Cushing's syndrome (high levels of the hormone cortisol) Addison's disease (low levels of cortisol and aldosterone), anorexia, and exposure to pollutants.
Symptoms of hormonal imbalance in women
Women naturally experience several times in their life when their hormones shift: puberty, pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, perimenopause, menopause, and post menopause.
Estrogen and progesterone affect these transitions. Women may have heavy, irregular, or painful periods. Some women get acne during or just before their period. If you are not trying to get pregnant, you can take birth control medications that also help regulate menstrual cycles and hormonal imbalance symptoms.
In older women, weak, brittle bones — called osteoporosis — can be a symptom of hormonal imbalance. During menopause, you may suffer from hot flashes and night sweats, which may be treated with HRT. Have a candid discussion with your gynecologist, who can help you weigh your concern about the risk of cancer against the discomfort you feel. A dry vagina can make sex uncomfortable, but you can apply creams containing estrogens, or tablets, or insert an estrogen ring.
You may see hair growth on your face, neck, chest, or back, treatable with prescription creams. Your hair may thin or fall off, and you may develop skin tags. Your voice may deepen. Sometimes the clitoris gets larger.
In women, the possible causes of hormonal imbalance include polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), medications, early menopause, primary ovarian insufficiency, and ovarian cancer. Medications can stimulate ovulation if you have PCOS and want to conceive, and injections can help increase the chances of pregnancy.
Symptoms of hormonal imbalance in men
Men experience hormonal shifts in puberty and as they age, when they may develop prostate cancer or hypogonadism (low testosterone). The symptoms of hormonal imbalance in men include reduced sex drive, erectile dysfunction, low sperm count, reduced muscle mass, reduced body hair growth, overdevelopment of breast tissue, breast tenderness, and osteoporosis.
It is possible that obesity pushes male testosterone levels down, and these low levels then help push men towards diabetes and heart disease. Or low testosterone may begin the chain, leading men towards metabolic syndrome, the precursor to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Often men ignore their symptoms for years or attribute them to other causes. There is also controversy over exactly what symptoms should trigger men to take testosterone. If you don’t have an erection in the morning, don’t feel desire, and have troubles with maintaining an erection during sex, you could have your blood testosterone checked. Total testosterone in older men less than 8-11 nmol/l is considered low. Take this online quiz for a test that is more likely to suggest you need extra testosterone.
April 01, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN