Here’s what your hormones do.
You may have heard the term “hormonal imbalance” before and wondered what that means. You may have even wondered if you have a hormonal imbalance.
It’s helpful to first take a look at what our hormones are.
Hormones are chemicals that control almost every bodily function, says Dr. Deena Adimoolam, a Jersey City, New Jersey-based specialist in endocrinology and primary care. In fact, the body makes about 50 different hormones.
Here are just some of your bodily functions in which hormones play a role:
— Blood sugar.
Too much or too little of a certain hormone can lead to health problems. Here are some signs that you may have a hormonal imbalance.
A butterfly-shaped gland in your neck called the thyroid manufactures and processes several hormones like thyroixine and triiodothyronine that help control metabolism, body temperature and your heartbeat, as well as other bodily functions.
An underactive thyroid may cause weight gain, fatigue and constipation, says Dr. Mihail Zilbermint, an associate professor of clinical medicine at the division of endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore. Zilbermint is also an Endocrine Society spokesperson.
If you don’t make enough thyroid hormones, you have hypothyroidism. If you produce too much, you have hyperthyroidism. Hypothyroidism is more common than hyperthyroidism.
If you have hypothyroidism, you’ll likely receive levothyroxine, a synthetic thyroid hormone.
2. Feeling more thirsty
Increased thirst is a hallmark sign of diabetes. With Type 1 diabetes, your body isn’t making the hormone insulin — insulin helps your body control blood sugar. With Type 2 diabetes, your body doesn’t make enough insulin, or it makes a lot of insulin but doesn’t use it effectively.
If you have Type 1 diabetes, you’ll receive treatments of insulin. If you have Type 2 diabetes, the most common medication used is called metformin. This helps the body do a better job of controlling blood sugar.
3. Having to urinate more
Weight loss and increased urination and thirst are common symptoms of Type 1 diabetes, says Dr. Jennifer Osipoff, a pediatric endocrinologist at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital in Stony Brook, New York.
Increased thirst and urination are also common in Type 2 diabetes. The disease also may cause a darkening of the skin around the neck or armpits. Type 2 diabetes is more common in people who are overweight.
If you are overweight, losing weight, even just 5% to 10% of your body weight, can improve a hormonal imbalance, says Dr. Rishi Raj, an endocrinologist with Pikeville Medical Center in Pikeville, Kentucky, and an Endocrine Society spokesperson. With Type 2 diabetes, for example, your body needs to make less insulin. That can make diabetes easier to manage.
4. Having a lower sex drive
Lower sex drive and lower muscle strength can be two symptoms of low testosterone. Also called hypogonadism, this refers to lower production of the hormone testosterone in the body. Low testosterone is more noticeable in men, but women also can experience it.
Men suffering the effects of low testosterone may be treated with the injection of synthetic testosterone.
5. Higher or lower blood pressure than normal
Hormones play a role in controlling blood pressure, so it makes sense that a hormonal disorder may also cause higher or lower blood pressure. Lower blood pressure may occur with hypothyroidism or an imbalance of the adrenal glands, which produce hormones like aldosterone that help control metabolism and blood pressure.
It’s also possible for the hormones made by the adrenal glands to overproduce, leading to high blood pressure. High blood pressure is also common among people with Type 2 diabetes. The two conditions may have similar causes, experts believe.
6. Increased sensitivity to temperature changes
It’s common for certain hormonal-related issues, such as hypothyroidism/hyperthyroidism and menopause, to make you feel hotter or colder. Menopause is commonly associated with hot flashes, or an intense warm feeling in the upper body and face.
Hypothyroidism may make you feel colder than you normally would, while hyperthyroidism tends to warm you up. These changes happen because of the way that thyroid hormones affect your metabolism.
7. An irregular menstrual cycle
Polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, is what happens when a female produces too many androgens, or male hormones. Untreated, this overproduction of androgens can lead to an imbalance that causes women to have irregular or absent menstrual cycles.
Those with PCOS also are at a higher risk for Type 2 diabetes because they’re frequently insulin resistant.
For PCOS, the most common treatment is birth control pills. However, your doctor will tailor the treatment for your needs. If you have PCOS but are looking to get pregnant, the doctor may recommend another treatment like clomiphene instead of birth control.
8. Joint pains
Joint pain and stiffness can have many causes, and they are often associated with arthritis. However, hormonal imbalances such as hypothyroidism also can cause joint pains. This happens because thyroid hormones are associated with the growth of bone and cartilage, which is a type of connective tissue in the body.
Joint pain also can occur with hypothyroidism if there is another autoimmune disease present that commonly causes joint pain, such as rheumatoid arthritis. An autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto’s disease is a common cause of hypothyroidism. This disease is associated with the development of other autoimmune diseases.
9. Mood changes
If your hormones are causing issues, then it’s common that mood changes will emerge. This could range from feeling irritated by just about everything to depression. Both hypothyroidism and menopause are sometimes associated with depression.
Women going through menopause also may feel more anxious than they normally would. It’s also more common when you have PCOS to experience mood swings.
10. Skin changes, such as acne or dry skin
In addition to an irregular period and excess hair growth, people with PCOS have acne. This is because androgen, the hormone that’s over-produced in women with PCOS, also causes to an increased production of oil in the skin, which can clog pores and lead to breakouts on the face, neck, chest and back.
Dry skin can be caused by decreased estrogen production, such as during menopause and perimenopause.
11. Sleep problems
Think about how hard it can be to get a good night’s sleep for any reason. When you add hormonal issues to the mix, shuteye becomes even more challenging. Fluctuating hormones may cause you to feel tired but not be able to go to sleep easily.
Hormones also could cause you to wake up restless in the middle of the night. You may even find you have insomnia. Perimenopause — a term used to describe the years leading up to menopause — is a common time that women experience sleep problems.
12. Weight gain or weight loss
Sudden, unexplained changes in weight could be due to a shift in hormones. Type 1 diabetes and hyperthyroidism can lead to loss, while menopause and hypothyroidism often cause weight gain.
Maintaining a healthy diet and weight can actually help keep hormonal disorders in check. For some conditions, like Type 2 diabetes, and naturally occurring changes, like menopause, weight loss and healthy eating are good preventive steps.
So is staying physically active; federal guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate heart-pumping exercise a week. That can break down into 30 minutes, five days a week.
12 signs and symptoms of a hormonal imbalance
Not all hormonal problems have the same signs or symptoms, and having these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a hormonal problem.
That being said, these are some signs and symptoms associated with hormonal imbalances:
— Feeling fatigued.
— Feeling more thirsty.
— Having to urinate more.
— Having a lower sex drive.
— Higher or lower blood pressure than normal.
— Increased sensitivity to temperature changes.
— An irregular menstrual cycle.
— Joint pains.
— Mood changes.
— Skin changes, such as acne or dry skin.
— Sleep problems, such as insomnia or sleeping too much.
— Weight gain or weight loss.
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Update 03/29/22: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.