“Sorry, I’m hormonal.”
This has become a catchphrase for so many women; from those having their first period, to those who are pregnant, to those who are going through menopause. Hormones are a key part of how our bodies function, and it’s actually perfectly normal for them to often be in flux. When things get tricky is when when the hormones are changing too severely and rapidly for your body to adjust to — this is, by definition, when a hormonal imbalance occurs.
Unfortunately, many women are unaware of their hormonal imbalance; we’ve been so conditioned to expect tumultuous mood swings and changes in our bodies that it can be difficult to tell whether what we’re experiencing is a normal hormonal phase or not. To learn more hormonal imbalances, keep reading.
What causes a hormonal imbalance to occur?
A hormonal imbalance occurs when too much, or not enough, of a hormone is produced too quickly for the body to handle. Imbalances can also be triggered by external forces, such as high stress levels, minimal amounts of sleep, little exercise, “taking synthetic hormones,” and eating poorly. Puberty, perimenopause, and menopause itself are all common times for a hormonal imbalance to occur.
What are the symptoms of a hormonal imbalance?
The symptoms of a hormonal balance will vary based on when the imbalance occurs. For example, symptoms of a hormonal imbalance during puberty will differ from those during menopause. Physical symptoms vary the most. A hormonal imbalance that occurs during PMS or during your period will usually include weight changes, skin issues, back pain, food cravings, irregular periods, and yeast infections. During perimenopause and beyond, weight changes, vaginal dryness, hot flashes, and even heart palpitations are symptoms of a hormonal imbalance.
A hormonal imbalance can also take a toll on mental health. Depression, anxiety, severe irritability, mood swings, and insomnia are all common issues that can occur, or worsen, due to a hormonal imbalance. A drop in your sex drive is also common when hormones are out of balance. Other common symptoms for any age include hair loss and hair growth, foggy-headedness, fatigue, and sometimes infertility.
What kinds of hormonal imbalances are there?
Estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, thyroid, adrenal, insulin, cortisol, and androgen are all hormones that can become unbalanced. When your body is producing too little or too much of one hormone, the whole “scale” of your hormones is thrown far off balance. For example, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) occurs when insulin levels rise too high, which triggers the body to produce excessive testosterone.
How are hormonal imbalances tested and treated for?
In order to find out if you have a hormone imbalance, a doctor must test your hormone levels. There are a couple ways of doing so — saliva testing, blood testing, and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) testing. Saliva testing seems to be the most accurate and widely used method, as well as the most painless. Blood testing tends to provide less accurate measurements of the hormones, while FSH testing is primarily used solely for those experiencing perimenopause.
Once the testing is complete, there are several options for treatment, depending on the imbalance itself and the severity of your symptoms. For some, hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, may be an option. HRT provides the body with the hormones it is lacking, and has been covered more extensively on Helloflo here. A healthy diet and exercise regime are also key parts to keeping hormones regulated. “Regular exercise strengthens the endocrine system”, which is the system that controls your hormones in the first place. There are also plenty of natural herbs and supplements available, though it is important to remember that even if what you’re taking claims to be natural, it’s always best to talk to a medical provider first to make sure it won’t have any adverse effects.
A hormonal imbalance is not something you have to live with, even if you’ve been conditioned to accept the physical and emotional pain that comes with it. For a list of resources that explain more about hormonal imbalances and their treatment, check below.