Symptoms of hormonal imbalance vary from person to person which is why it can be difficult to identify hormonal imbalances.
Hormone imbalance symptoms can range from feeling tired all the time to insomnia, breast tenderness and changes in blood pressure.
During the onset of hormonal imbalances, women may experience weight gain or weight loss, mood changes, skin rashes and headaches.
The list goes on but after reading this article, you will be equipped with the knowledge to better understand and manage your hormonal health.
In this article, we’re going to tackle symptoms of hormonal imbalance, causes and treatment including the steps you should take if you suspect you are experiencing hormone imbalance.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What are hormones?
- What causes hormonal imbalance?
- Hormone imbalance symptoms
- Can stress cause hormonal imbalance?
- How can I balance my hormones?
- How do you check hormone levels?
What are hormones?
Hormones are commonly described as “chemical messengers” which travel in the bloodstream to stimulate a number of different functions in the body.
Hormones impact a number of key physiological functions, from mood to reproduction, sex drive and even hunger, a small change in hormone levels can result in significant changes in the body.
Hormones are produced in a connected network of “endocrine glands”.
Endocrine glands are best described as a group of cells that make up the endocrine system.
The most widely known endocrine glands that make up the endocrine system include:
- The Hypothalamus (located in the brain)
- Pituitary gland (located in the brain)
- Pineal gland (located in the brain)
- Thymus gland (located in the chest)
- Thyroid gland (located in the neck)
- Adrenal glands (located above the kidneys)
- The Pancreas (located behind the stomach)
Additionally, women produce female-specific hormones in their ovaries while men make male-specific hormones in their testes.
The functions of the endocrine glands which are dotted all over the body revolve around the release of hormones into the bloodstream. Hormones travel in the bloodstream to various organs to stimulate desired responses.
In sum: hormones control and coordinate bodily functions following their release into the bloodstream.
To put all of the above into context. Let’s take a look at which endocrine glands are responsible for corresponding biological function.
The hypothalamus releases thyrotropin-releasing hormone, gonadotropin-releasing hormone, growth hormone-releasing hormone, corticotropin-releasing hormone, somatostatin and dopamine. Many of these act on the pituitary gland, signalling the release of further hormones. Hormones that are released by the hypothalamus influence your sleep, thirst and sex drive.
The Pituitary Gland
The pituitary gland releases adrenocorticotropic hormone, thyroid stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormone, follicle stimulating hormone, proclacin, growth hormone and melanocyte-stimulating hormone. These hormones, that are released by the pituitary gland influence physical growth, metabolic rate, stress and body composition.
The Pineal Gland
The pineal gland most notably releases melatonin which is responsible for sleep, skin pigmentation, our immunity and our blood sugar. The pineal gland also slows down the release of reproductive hormones to maintain hormonal balance.
The Thymus Gland
The thymus gland releases thymosin, a hormone which is responsible for producing disease fighting T-cells. The thymus gland reduces in size as humans age. Biologically speaking, the thymus gland is replaced by fat as we get older.
The Thyroid Gland
The thyroid gland releases triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). These hormones, that are released by the thyroid gland play a role in your energy, mood, metabolism, heart rate, muscle function, fat distribution, brain development and the maintenance of healthy bones.
The Adrenal Glands
The adrenal glands release a number of hormones. The three types of hormones that the adrenal glands release include mineralocorticoids, glucocorticoids and adrenal androgens. The hormones released by the adrenal glands influence your metabolism, immunity, blood pressure, and your stress response.
The pancreas releases glucagon and insulin. The hormones released by the pancreas influence digestion and control blood sugar.
The ovaries release two groups of sex hormones. These two groups are known as progesterone and estrogen. Progesterone and estrogen coordinate to influence the development of secondary sex characteristics during puberty and are involved in the menstrual cycle.
There’s a lot of information out there when it comes to our hormonal health and it can be a lot to take in.
One of the best ways to describe the endocrine system is to think of your body as a water boiler. When the water is hot enough, it turns off. When the water cools down, the water boiler heats up again. The aim is to maintain the perfect water temperature.This is an example of a negative feedback loop, and hormone release is controlled by a similar mechanism. Your hormones are released in response to biological cues which are sent out by different organs.
Hormone imbalance is caused by numerous causes and culprits. Women are generally more likely to experience hormonal imbalances than men due to menstruation, pregnancy and menopause.
What causes hormonal imbalance?
Hormonal imbalance can be caused by a number of variables. Some of the most common causes of hormonal imbalance including ageing, endocrine gland disorders, chronic stress, weight, nutrition, cancer treatment and the use of certain medications.
Both women and men will commonly experience hormonal imbalance during their lifetime, and this is largely caused by the natural process of getting older.
Women are most likely to experience hormonal imbalance after the age of 35, when their levels of estrogen and progesterone begin to decline, as the ovaries begin to decrease the production of both hormones.
Men are also more likely to experience hormone imbalance due to ageing. From the age of 30, men will begin to lose 1% off their total testosterone level each year.
When it comes to hormone imbalance, it’s important to know that there is an extensive list of factors that may cause hormonal imbalance. The best way to pinpoint what may be causing your hormonal imbalance is to take a test.
Lifestyle factors that may cause hormonal imbalance include:
- The use of hormonal contraception
- Inadequate nutrition or poor diet
- Overexercising or under exercising
- Being overweight
- The use of anabolic steroids
Physical conditions which are caused by hormonal imbalance or cause hormonal imbalance include:
- Cancers of the endocrine glands
- Type 1 or 2 diabetes
- Hyperglycemia (overproduction of glucose)
- Hypoglycemia (low levels of glucose in the blood)
- Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
- Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
- Cushing’s syndrome (overproduction of cortisol)
- Addison’s Disease (insufficient cortisol and aldosterone produced)
- Over- or underproduction of the parathyroid hormone
- Benign tumors and cysts on the endocrine glands
- Endocrine gland injuries
- Severe allergic reactions or infections
- Turner syndrome
- Goiter (a swelling of the thyroid gland)
Emotional conditions that are linked to hormonal imbalance include:
Emotional or chronic stress
As mentioned, the causes of hormonal imbalance in women can be specifically related to hormones that carry out reproductive functions such as menstruation, pregnancy and breastfeeding. The levels can be altered in menopause, primary ovarian insufficiency and through the use of hormonal contraceptives.
The most common condition caused by hormone imbalance in women is PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome).
PCOS occurs in women when the ovaries produce excess male hormones (androgens) and abnormal levels of female hormones (such as estrogen and progesterone).
As mentioned, it’s also extremely common for women to experience hormonal deficiencies as they age.
Some of the leading hormones that may cause hormonal issues or conditions in women include:
Estrogen is defined as the primary sex hormone in women. Estrogen is responsible for the development of female secondary sex charactertiscs during puberty, estrogen is involved in regulating the menstrual cycle and prepares the body and uterus for pregnancy. If estrogen is imbalanced, it may lead to a number of uncomfortable symptoms.
Progesterone is lesser known than estrogen but just as important. Progesterone plays an integral role in preparing the body for pregnancy and in the maintenance of pregnancy. It is often referred to as the “pregnancy hormone”.
Cortisol is commonly referred to as our “fight or flight” or “stress hormone”. Cortisol is released at times where the mind and/or body perceives a threat. If cortisol is too high or too low, it can have a significant impact on energy levels, mood, body weight and immunity.
Triiodothyronine (T3) & Thyroxine (T4)
Triiodothyronine and thyroxine are the hormones that are associated with, and are secreted from our thyroid gland. If levels of T3 and T4 become too high or too low, patients are said to have an underactive (hypothyroidism) or an overactive (hyperthyroidism) thyroid. Both conditions have the ability to significantly affect day to day functioning.
Melatonin plays a role in our natural sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin is highest at night and lowest when we wake. As we are about to wake up, cortisol, the stress hormone we just talked about begins to rise in the blood. Melatonin imbalance is often caused by sleep disruption, which is a common consequence of the 21st century.It is common among those who do shift work, travel across time zones and can be seen in those with dementia and mood disorders.
Hormonal Imbalance Symptoms
Some of the most common symptoms related to hormone imbalance symptoms in women include:
- Irregular periods, heavier or lighter periods, or a total cessation of periods
- Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
- Feeling tired all of the time
- Mood changes
- Vaginal dryness
- Pain during sex
- Acne on the face, back or chest
- Hair growth on the face, chin and breasts
- Thinning hair or hair loss
- Vaginal atrophy
- Increased sensitivity to heat
Hormone imbalance symptoms vary from individual to individual and the best way to understand your hormone levels and the effects they may be having on day to day life is through regular testing. The most accurate test for hormone levels involves a blood test.
As we have already mentioned, female hormone imbalance is frequently encountered in:
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
Other hormone imbalance in hormones such as cortisol, melatonin, T3 and T4 may include:
- Feeling tired all of the time
- Increased sensitivity to temperatures, whether they are hot are cold
- Dry or rashy skin
- Increased need to urinate
- Muscle aches and pains
- Bloating of the face and body
- Thinning hair
- Joint pain or stiffness
- Muscle weakness
- Weight gain or loss
- Increased thirst
- Changes in appetite
- Mood changes such as depression or anxiety
- Low sex drive (libido)
- Issues with vision
- Issues with conception
- A rounded face
- Prominent stretch marks
Can stress cause hormonal imbalance?
Stress can cause hormone imbalance if the stress experienced is frequent or consistent, i.e, if you feel stressed on a regular basis, or if you have been feeling stressed for a significant period of time.
We mentioned cortisol earlier in this article, and we have previously spoken about the dangers of high cortisol and stress over time.
When we feel stressed, cortisol is released to help our bodies cope with the perceived threat and is known as "the stress hormone".
Adrenaline is the "fight-or-flight" hormone that provides your body with a surge of energy to respond to immediate danger.
Feeling overwhelmed or stressed is common so don’t feel like you’re alone, but it’s important to realize that stress may cause high blood pressure, an increased heart rate and mood changes such as anxiety.
If you have high cortisol, you are likely to gain more weight around the middle, which can lead to hormonal imbalance, most notably higher estrogen levels.
Luckily, there are behaviours that you can engage in to reduce high cortisol levels such as yoga, light exercise, meeting with friends and colouring books. Whatever works for you, try to find time to do it, you won’t regret it!
In sum: Hormonal balance can be affected by our lifestyles, with stress being a significant lifestyle factor. It’s important to destress every day, even if it’s only for 10-15 minutes.
How can I balance my hormones?
- Eat enough protein at every meal (Eggs)
- Exercise regularly
- Avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates
- Learn to manage stress
- Consume healthy fats
- Avoid over or under eating
- Know your herbal teas, they help with hormone imbalance and bloating
- Eat healthy fats
- Incorporate omegas in your diet
- Quality is just as important as quantity when it comes to sleep
- Stay away from sugary or caffeinated beverages
- Eat fiber rich foods
How do I check my hormones?
It is normal for your hormone levels to shift at different periods of your life. It may happen before or after your periods, during pregnancy, or during menopause.
LetsGetChecked offer a range of at home female hormones tests that offer comprehensive insight into your hormones.
Let's take a look through the tests that might work for you.
The Ovarian Reserve Test measures the level of AMH (Anti-Mullerian Hormone) in your blood, offering a good indication of the number of eggs you have left in your ovaries.
This can help indicate your fertility potential, both for the present and the future. If a woman's AMH levels are below what is normal for her age, this indicates that her chances of becoming pregnant may be lower than what is expected for her age. If you are thinking about having IVF, this test can also give you an indication of how likely you are to respond to treatment.
Anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH) is a hormone secreted by cells in the ovarian follicles. From the moment you are born, the number of eggs in your ovaries are continuously decreasing with each menstrual cycle.
The Female Hormone Test is for anyone who is curious about their fertility status or for those who worried about polycystic ovary syndrome. The female hormone test must be taken on Day 3 of the menstrual cycle. It is recommended that no hormonal contraceptives are being taken at this time. The female hormone test examines the following:
Follicle Stimulating Hormone stimulates the growth of ovarian follicles before the egg is released in the fallopian tube. It controls the menstrual cycle and the production of eggs. It is involved in controlling the onset of puberty. Levels of follicle stimulating hormone vary throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle but they are at their highest just before an egg is released. The test checks your level of follicle stimulating hormone in the blood and by that technology can give you a clearer view of your fertility status.
Luteinizing Hormone is responsible for ovulation. It works in conjunction with follicle stimulating hormone to trigger the release of the egg. Elevated levels of luteinizing hormone can indicate primary ovarian failure or polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Prolactin is responsible for the production of breast milk after childbirth. High levels of prolactin in the blood can indicate that you are experiencing thyroid issues, you have a problem with the pituitary gland, or ovulation is being suppressed.
Oestradiol (a form of estrogen) is responsible for sexual function and the development of secondary sexual characteristics. It maintains eggs within the ovaries. High levels of oestradiol can suppress follicle stimulating hormone. The Female Hormone Test offers a clear view of your fertility status, purchase the Female Hormone Test here.
The Progesterone Test at LetsGetChecked monitors ovulation on Day 21 of your period. By examining progesterone in the blood, the test can decipher whether you are ovulating.
Progesterone is a female hormone that prepares the uterus (womb) for implantation of a fertilized egg. Following implantation of a fertilized egg, progesterone maintains the uterine lining during pregnancy.
Whatever your symptoms, it's always good to know. If you would like to find out more about our tests, you can live chat our support team or browse our female hormone tests on our website.
Written by Hannah Kingston | Medically Reviewed by Dr. Susan O' Sullivan