Hormone Imbalance in Women: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments
Hormone imbalances happen when you have too high or too little of a hormone in your bloodstream. Hormones play an important role in your body, especially in your reproductive system. Hormones deliver messages to your organs and tell them what to do. Even small hormonal imbalances can lead to noticeable changes in your body. Let’s explore the causes symptoms and side-effects of hormone imbalances together!
Causes of a Hormonal Imbalance
Menopause is a common time for a woman to experience many hormonal shifts and imbalances. The side effects of these changes can include hot flashes, mood swings, and decreased libido. Other times these shifts can be the result of medical conditions or medication.
Menopause is a stage in a woman’s life where a woman stops having her regular menstrual period and becomes no longer fertile. During menopause, women stop ovulating and their levels of estrogen hormones decrease. Menopause begins 12 months after your last period.
Perimenopause is the transition phase leading up to Menopause. The symptoms of perimenopause can last anywhere from a couple of years up to a decade before fully reaching menopause (and you can still get pregnant during this period). Irregular periods are a symptom of perimenopause.
During pregnancy, the amount of estrogen and progesterone hormone levels spike by a large amount. You can produce more estrogen hormones during pregnancy, than your whole time outside of pregnancy. The estrogen hormone allows your uterus and placenta to manage blood vessels, which helps you transfer enough nutrients to support a growing baby. Estrogen helps develop your baby after birth as well. Because estrogen levels increase during your second trimester to support breast milk development.
Progesterone hormone levels increase during pregnancy, which helps your physical body support childbearing. The hormone changes loosen ligaments and relax joints to help support the growth of certain tissues and organs. For example, the ureters connect your kidneys to the bladder, and will grow during pregnancy to help adjust to a preborn child.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is one of the top causes of fertility issues among women. The hormonal imbalance stemming from PCOS affects ovulation.
A woman with PCOS may experience irregular periods, prolonged periods, and excess testosterone hormone levels. This means your ovulation period will be harder to track using the calendar method if you’re trying to conceive. The Mira Fertility Tracker can tell you when your ovulation cycle is by tracking your luteinizing hormone.
During PCOS the ovaries may build up with fluids and cease to release eggs regularly. Thus, a woman can not get pregnant without ovulating. It is still possible to get pregnant if you have PCOS. Although, maintaining a healthy weight is one of the key tips for boosting your fertility.
(Birth) Hormone Control Medications
An increase in these hormone levels is able to stop ovaries from releasing eggs. No eggs mean that during sex, sperm cells have nothing to fertilize after ejaculation. Progestin hormone makes your cervical mucus less fertile. When your mucus becomes thicker and sticky, sperm cells have a harder time making their way towards the uterus.
Premature Ovarian Failure
Premature Ovarian Failure — also known as primary ovarian insufficiency — happens when the ovaries stop working regularly before a woman reaches the age of 40. This causes your ovaries to produce lower amounts of the estrogen hormone and lowers the number of eggs released, this can result in being non-fertile.
Because of similar symptoms, ovarian failure is often mistaken for early menopause, yet both conditions are not the same. Besides, women experiencing premature ovarian failure, can have irregular cycles and possibly still get pregnant. Women in menopause stop having periods, and usually can’t get pregnant.
Symptoms of a Hormonal Imbalance
Hormones play a large role in your physical health. There’s a large range of symptoms that could be a sign of a hormonal imbalance. The symptoms you experience are based off which glands are not working as they’re supposed to.
- Heavy bleeding
- Irregular periods missed periods, cease of periods, frequent periods
- Acne: face chest, back
- Hair loss or thinning
- Hirsutism: excessive hair growth
Hormone Imbalance: Weight Gain
Hormone balance plays an important part in regulating your metabolism — The body’s ability to use energy. Hormone disorders such as hypothyroidism and Cushing syndrome can lead to being overweight or even obese.
A person with hypothyroidism has lower levels of thyroid hormone. Meaning that their metabolism doesn’t burn energy at a fast enough rate to maintain a healthy weight. Even on a conservative diet, you can still gain weight with hypothyroidism.
If a person is suspected to have Cushing syndrome, a doctor may run a blood test to check their levels of the cortisol hormone (stress hormone). Cortisol can increase appetite and fat storage rates. Also during menopause, it becomes easier to gain weight since your metabolism slows down.
Hormonal Imbalance: Excessive Acne
Acne is mainly caused by excess oil that clogs pores on your skin. Acne is more common in areas of your body with the most oil glands. Many people assume that acne is only related to hormonal changes during puberty, but there is a life-long link between acne and hormone levels.
You may have noticed more breakouts leading up to your period. The menstrual cycle is a common trigger for acne. Acne develops about a week before your period, then dies down when your next cycle begins. Medical professionals often test hormone levels for women that get acne alongside other hormone imbalance symptoms, like missed periods, and hair loss.
Testosterone, also known as androgen is a male hormone that causes acne in men and women. This hormone triggers glands to produce excess oil. Acne is so common during puberty because males and females experience higher testosterone levels during this time. Androgen levels usually decrease into your early 20s.
Hormonal imbalance: Hair Loss
Hormonal imbalances may result in temporary hair loss. Hair loss or thinning tends to occur around pregnancy, after childbirth, or at the beginning of menopause. A low amount of thyroid hormone levels can cause hair loss as well.
Treatments for a Hormonal Imbalance
The exact treatments used for hormonal imbalances may overlap, but they’re generally based on the cause of the imbalance.
Birth/Hormone Control Treatments: People who are trying to avoid pregnancy, or just not trying to get pregnant, can use hormonal birth control medications that can help treat irregular periods and other menstrual cycle related symptoms. Birth control treatments include the pill, ring, patch, etc.
Vaginal Estrogen: Vaginal dryness is strongly linked to your estrogen levels. This can be treated by applying estrogen-based products to the vagina, such as creams and tissues. Also, estrogen products can be taken as tablets, or be inserted as a ring into the vagina.
Hormone Therapy: Hormone replacement therapy — medications containing female hormones to replace the ones the body no longer makes after menopause — is sometimes used to treat common menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes and vaginal discomfort.
Anti-Testosterone Medications: Anti-Testosterone medication reduces the level of the male-sex-hormone responsible for causing acne, and hair growth.
PCOS and Fertility Medications: Medications like Clomid are able to help people with PCOS that are trying to get pregnant. PCOS helps to stimulate ovulation to help people with PCOS get pregnant. If you struggle with PCOS or other fertility issues, you could be treated with injections to boost the chances of pregnancy.
✔️ Medically Reviewed by Banafsheh Kashani, MD, FACOG
Banafsheh Kashani, M.D., FACOG is a board-certified OB/GYN and specialist in reproductive endocrinology and infertility at Eden Fertility Centers, and has been treatingcouples and individuals with infertility since 2014.
Dr. Kashani has conducted extensive research in female reproduction, with a specific focus on the endometrium and implantation.
Additionally, Dr. Kashani has authored papers in the areas of fertility preservation, and fertility in women with PCOS and Turners syndrome. She also was part of a large SART-CORS study evaluating the trend in frozen embryo transfers and success rates.