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the word hormones written on a chalk board

What causes hormonal imbalances?

Your hormones play a role in nearly every bodily function, and if they become unbalanced, it can lead to a wide variety of health symptoms. Tia Guster, M.D., a Piedmont obstetrician and gynecologist, explains how hormones work, how they become unbalanced and signs you need to seek medical care.

What are hormones?

“Hormones are proteins or message centers that regulate everything in your body, including how fast your hair grows, your menstrual cycles, how much weight you gain or lose, whether you run hot or cold, and how your body processes sugar,” says Dr. Guster.

Hormones are part of the endocrine system and are produced by different tissues and glands in the body. The human body has more than 50 types of hormones researchers have identified so far. Hormones control your:

What is a hormonal imbalance?

A hormonal imbalance means your body has too little or too much of one or more hormones. A hormonal imbalance can be temporary or chronic, depending on the cause. A hormonal imbalance may require medical treatment, especially if the symptoms affect your health and quality of life.

Hormonal imbalances can lead to medical conditions like:

What causes hormonal imbalances?

Dr. Guster says many factors can trigger a hormone imbalance, including:

  • Puberty

  • Pregnancy

  • Menopause

  • Chronic stress

  • Steroids

  • Certain medications

  • Autoimmune conditions, including Graves’ disease, type 1 diabetes, Hashimoto’s disease, polyglandular syndromes and Addison’s disease

  • Endocrine gland injury caused by radiation therapy, infection, trauma, excessive blood loss or damage from surgery

  • Tumors, growths or adenomas (noncancerous tumors on the pituitary, parathyroid or adrenal glands)

Symptoms of a hormonal balance

Signs of a hormonal imbalance can vary based on the underlying cause and may include:

  • Acne

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Infertility

  • Decreased muscle mass

  • Intense thirst and frequent urination

  • Unexplained weight loss or weight gain

  • Fatigue

  • High cholesterol levels

  • Digestive issues like constipation or diarrhea

  • Intolerance to hot or cold temperatures

  • Dry skin

  • Dry, brittle hair

  • Heavy or irregular periods

  • Loss of sexual desire

  • Hair loss on the scalp or body

  • Excess body hair (hirsutism)

  • Tingling and numbness in your hands

  • Skin tags

  • Thin, moist and warm skin

  • Darkened skin on the underarms, back or side of the neck

  • Vaginal dryness or atrophy

  • Hot flashes

  • Rapid or slow heartbeat

How are hormonal imbalances diagnosed?

“If someone comes to our office with symptoms of a hormonal imbalance, we’ll review their health history and do a physical,” says Dr. Guster. “We’ll talk about what we think is going on and different lab work we can do to test your hormones.”

It’s important to see your primary care provider or gynecologist if you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above on a consistent or extreme basis. Some underlying causes of hormonal imbalances—such as PCOS—significantly increase your risk of other serious health issues. Getting the right treatment can also improve your quality of life.

“If you’ve had symptoms for longer than four to six weeks or they’re getting worse in intensity, that’s a good time to bring it up with your provider,” she says.

How are hormonal imbalances treated?

Treatment for hormone imbalances depends on the underlying cause. For example, if you have thyroid disease, you may need thyroid medication. If your symptoms are caused by perimenopause, your health care provider may recommend certain lifestyle changes or hormone replacement therapy.

How can you prevent hormonal imbalances?

Some conditions related to hormonal imbalances are difficult to prevent, such as PCOS. Others, like type 2 diabetes, are often preventable. Making healthy lifestyle choices can support your hormone health. This includes:

  • Exercising regularly (aim for at least two strength workouts and 150 minutes of cardiovascular activity per week),

  • Eating a diet of whole, unprocessed foods like vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats, whole grains and fruit.

  • Limiting your consumption of processed or sugary foods and drinks.

  • Getting enough sleep each night.

  • Managing your stress levels through activities like meditation, yoga, regular exercise, counseling, time in nature and hobbies you enjoy.

  • Seeing your primary care provider or gynecologist yearly for a checkup.

  • Not smoking or using tobacco products.

  • Limiting or avoiding alcohol.

  • Limiting your caffeine consumption.

  • Checking with your provider before taking over-the-counter medications and supplements.

  • Reviewing your prescription medications with your provider to see how they might affect your hormones.

Finally, trust your gut and seek medical care if something feels “off.”

“If you feel like something’s not right or don’t feel heard, keep asking until you find someone who’s willing to work with you and listen to you,” says Dr. Guster.

We make getting great health care simple and convenient. Schedule an appointment today through your Piedmont MyChart account or our website.

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