Hormonal Imbalance in Women: Impact on health
If you are experiencing unexplained fatigue or weight gain, mood swings, sleeplessness or skin problems, don’t ignore those signs. You might have hormonal imbalances, which would need medical attention.
Hormones are chemicals produced by glands in our endocrine system which are then released into the bloodstream. There’s an imbalance when there is too much or too little of a hormone. These hormones regulate a clutch of body functions like appetite and metabolism, heart rate, sleep cycles, reproductive cycles and sexual function, body temperature, general growth and development, mood and stress levels.
In natural course, women experience several phases of hormonal imbalance in their lifetime, including during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, breast-feeding, peri-menopause, menopause, and post-menopause. Since women have different endocrine organs and cycles, they are at greater risk than men of developing different types of hormonal imbalance disorders.
If the balance is off, it could manifest in a variety of symptoms like heavy or irregular periods, including missed periods, a stopped or frequent period, hirsutism (excessive facial or body hair), acne, etc.
Common symptoms of hormonal imbalance
Although symptoms would depend on which glands and hormones are affected, some of the more common ones include:
- Heavy, irregular, or painful periods
- Unexplained changes in weight
- Profuse sweating, hot flashes
- Sleeplessness, fatigue
- Dry skin or rashes
- Vaginal dryness
- Changes in blood pressure, heart rate
- Osteoporosis (weak, brittle bones)
- Changes in blood glucose count
- Irritability, anxiety, depression
- Feeling thirsty all the time
- Headaches, blurred vision
- Changes in appetite, bloating
- Reduced sex drive
- Acne during or before menstruation
- Uterine bleeding not linked to menstruation
- Increased hair growth on face, neck, chest, or back (may indicate polycystic ovaries)
- Tenderness in breast
- Deepening of voice
There are a few medical conditions triggering irregular hormonal imbalances in women, while certain lifestyle habits and environmental factors could also play a role. These include:
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Hormone replacement or birth-control medications
- Premature menopause
- Primary ovarian insufficiency (POI)
- Cancer of the ovaries
- Diabetes (Type 1 and Type 2)
- Underactive or overactive thyroid (Hypothyroidism or Hyperthyroidism)
- Chronic or extreme stress
- Poor diet resulting in lack of proper nutrition
- Being overweight
- Endocrine gland injury
- Severe allergic reactions or infections
- An effect of cancer treatment (chemotherapy or radiation therapy)
- Pancreatitis (particularly if hereditary)
Treatment protocols vary from person to person, depending on the cause. Some treatment options for women with hormone imbalances include:
- Hormone control or birth control: For those not trying for a family, doctors often prescribe medications containing forms of estrogen and progesterone to regulate irregular menstrual cycles and symptoms. Birth-control pills or an intrauterine device (IUD) are also often suggested.
- Vaginal estrogen: Vaginal dryness associated with changes in estrogen levels can be addressed by creams containing estrogen applied directly to vaginal tissues to reduce symptoms. Estrogen tablets and rings are also advised to reduce vaginal dryness.
- Hormone replacement therapies: Medications to temporarily reduce severe symptoms associated with menopause, such as hot flashes or night sweats are often prescribed.
- Eflornithine: This cream is advised to deter excessive facial hair growth in women.
- Clomiphene and letrozole: For women with PCOS trying to conceive, these medicines help in stimulating ovulation. Sometimes, injections of gonadotropins can help increase the chances of pregnancy.
- Assisted reproductive technology: In-vitro fertilization (IVF) and other assisted reproductive techniques can be helpful in inducing pregnancy in women suffering from infertility due to conditions like PCOS.
- Metformin: Helps manage or lower blood sugar levels in Type 2 diabetics.
- Levothyroxine: Can help improve symptoms of hypothyroidism.
Apart from these medical treatments, a few changes in lifestyle can also help reduce the chances and symptoms of hormonal imbalances. You can try some of these:
- Watch your weight
- Have a balanced diet
- Exercise regularly
- Avoid triggers to hot flashes, like warm weather and spicy foods
- Cope with stress better with yoga, meditation, etc
- Control sugary foods and refined carbohydrates
- Avoid packaged foods