Do you know what hormone imbalance looks like?
Would you register a problem if it arose in yourself or someone you love?
Symptoms can be tricky to identify: subtle, general, or just plain weird. Women can live with an issue for years, thinking that because it’s their norm that it is usual. “Just the way their body is.” Or that there’s nothing that can be done. This isn’t okay.
Medical appreciation and action about female hormone challenges still leave much to be desired! You are your best advocate.
By learning to identify signs and symptoms— by gaining insight into what they mean — you can take action. This knowledge can be the first step to recovery. Like the musculoskeletal system, the hormone system can be improved, enhanced, (or even) rebuilt with the right interventions.
But before we look at the common signs and symptoms of hormonal imbalance, here is a brief reminder of what hormones are.
Hormones are gland-specific chemical messengers that are made by the endocrine glands. The glands include your pituitary, thyroid, adrenals, pancreas, ovaries (and more)… Their purpose is to regulate and coordinate physiological processes: to maintain balance within the body.
Now, what symptoms could indicate a problem?
Common signs and symptoms of hormone imbalance
One sign or symptom may have a range of causes, so the following information is not definitive. An indicator doesn’t mean a specific condition exists.
However, by knowing the possibilities, you can begin to ask questions. To get a feel for what might be happening under the hormonal hood. Because symptoms result from too much or too little: we need the precise amount for our bodies to purr.
Estrogen: the female hormone
The estrogens — often collectively called the “female hormone” — have their fingertips in many systems and functions, including playing reproductive, skeletal, cardiovascular, urinary, vaginal, mood, and cognitive roles. When estrogen levels go awry, many symptoms, including those ranging from mild to major, are possible.
As an article published in the journal, Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, said, “Excess estrogen will lead to autoimmune diseases and cancer, while less estrogen will lead to osteoporosis, and brain degeneration, among other pathologies.”
Let’s take a closer look.
High estrogen levels
— breast swelling and tenderness
— fibrocystic breasts lumps
— irregular menstrual cycles
— light or heavy periods
— low mood
— weight gain (hello hip, thigh, and tummy fat)
Low estrogen levels
Low estrogen is especially common in menopause. Its signs and symptoms may include:
— dry skin
— hot flashes
— mood swings
— poor libido
— vaginal dryness
Progesterone: the pregnancy hormone
Progesterone is the other female hormone. It is dubbed the “pregnancy hormone” because it’s inherently involved in fertility and gestation. It also has non-reproductive roles.
High progesterone levels
While far less common than low levels, high progestogen in women may lead to breast cancer or a rare ovarian tumor (called a granulosa cell tumor).
Low progesterone levels
Because of its effects on the uterus in particular and on bone, low levels are linked to:
— ectopic pregnancy
— endometrial hyperplasia
— pre-term labor
Testosterone: the male hormone
Just as estrogen is called the “female hormone,” testosterone is called the “male hormone.” Maybe because of this, research into low levels in women is limited. However, the impact of high levels is well-known and troublesome.
High testosterone levels
Too much testosterone in women can produce many signs and symptoms, including physical characteristics usually associated with males. These can include:
— anovulation (lack of egg production)
— clitoral enlargement
— deepening of the voice
— excessive facial and body hair growth
— male pattern scalp hair loss
— mood disturbances, including elevated anger, depression, and irritability
— oily skin and scalp
A high testosterone level is one of three diagnostic criteria for diagnosing a prevalent condition called Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.
Low testosterone levels
We believe this question has not been fully answered yet: is a low testosterone level problematic in women?
Research conducted on 70+-year-olds found that testosterone may be protective in a particular way.
A study published in The Lancet journal found that “low circulating concentrations of testosterone might increase the risk of ischaemic cardiovascular disease.” Elevating the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. So, testosterone may play a protective role, at least for our matriarchs.
Other research returned conflicting findings, finding that higher testosterone levels increased the rate of heart events.
There’s also long been interest in “if and how” treatment with this hormone might aid low libido in women.
And yes, testosterone can bolster the female sexual response. Ranging from elevated pleasure from self-play to increased frequency of sexual activity to stronger sexual desire, orgasm, and satisfaction.
Testosterone, then, may play important roles in women that are not yet fully appreciated.
Thyroid hormones: fuel for the body’s furnace
The thyroid is an incredible organ with its hormones having body-wide effects. However, thyroid issues are common in women. These signs and symptoms could indicate that you should check your thyroid levels.
High thyroid levels
When the thyroid runs hot, signs and symptoms may include:
— bulging of the eyes
— disturbed slumber
— heart palpitations
— increased thirst and appetite
— heat intolerance
— rapid, sometimes intense, fluctuations of mood (emotional liability)
— swelling over the thyroid (goiter)
— unexplained weight loss
Low thyroid levels
When the thyroid runs cold, which is far more common than the opposite, signs and symptoms may include:
— brain fog
— dry skin and hair
— feeling cold
— fluid retention
— hair loss, including from the scalp and the outer third of the eyebrows
— high cholesterol
— hoarse voice
— ongoing constipation
— menstrual irregularities
— muscle pain and weakness
— puffiness around the eyes
— weight gain
Insulin: the storage hormone
The hormone insulin determines the glucose (sugar) level in the blood. If the blood sugar level is too high, this hormone increases in order to guide sugar from the bloodstream and into the relative safety of the cells. There is it used or stored. For the most part, this fact reflects its signs and symptoms.
High insulin levels
Insulin levels can become measurably high, or a loss of sensitivity can occur called insulin resistance. The cell become “resistant” to the actions of this hormone.
As a result, signs and symptoms can include…
— abnormal skin coloring called acanthosis nigricans
— cravings for sweet foods and beverages
— difficulty losing weight
— high blood pressure
— irregular or absent periods
— mood swings
— non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
— skin tags
— weight gain, especially around the tummy area
Low insulin levels
When insulin drops, as it does in diabetes, this can trigger manifestations including:
— blurred vision
— brain fog
— frequent urination
— increased thirst
— unexpected weight loss
Cortisol: the stress hormone
Nicknamed the “stress hormone,” cortisol can also fall within and outside a healthy range.
High cortisol levels
Chronic high cortisol levels result in a condition called Cushing Syndrome. Common symptoms include:
— fatty deposits between the shoulder blades
— excess body and facial hair growth
— high blood pressure
— proximal muscle weakness, particularly of the shoulder and hip muscles
— weight gain, especially in the face and tummy areas
Low cortisol levels
Chronic low cortisol levels result in a rare condition called Addison disease. Common symptoms include:
— abnormally high heart rate (tachycardia)
— excessive pigmentation of the skin
— feeling lightheaded when you stand up (postural hypotension)
— general weakness
— low blood pressure
— low blood sugar
— ongoing abdominal discomfort
— poor appetite
— unexplained weight loss
Hormones are critical messengers that regulate and coordinate physiological processes. They are essential for the body’s balance. But signs and symptoms may result when their levels are out of sync.
By understanding how to identify hormonal clues, you can take action.
Some hormone imbalances are deflating, others can gradually degrade your health, and others are potentially life-threatening. So, if you experience signs or symptoms, see your health professional. You deserve to be well!