Endocrine glands are biological compounds secreted by hormones that regulate various body functions, including metabolism and reproduction. These hormones travel via the bloodstream to the target organs, where they carry out their functions.
Hormone imbalance is said to occur when there is too much or too little of a hormone in the bloodstream. These hormonal imbalances can cause various signs and symptoms, providing signals for the diagnosis.
This article will discuss the signs and symptoms to expect when you have hormonal imbalances and also explain what to do if you have any doubts regarding it.
Signs and Symptoms of Hormonal Imbalances
The signs and symptoms of hormonal imbalance depend on which hormone is involved and vary according to the affected gland.
Signs and symptoms specific to the female sex
In females, there is naturally a change in the hormonal cycle during various stages such as puberty, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menopause. These changes are physiological and do not require any further intervention. However, the hormonal fluctuations during these stages can be excessive, resulting in various signs and symptoms.
Some of the symptoms of hormonal imbalance specific to the female sex are:
- Problems in menstrual periods like heavy periods, irregular periods, missed periods, frequent periods, and stopped periods
- Excessive hair on the face or other parts of the body
- Acne on the face, chest, or back
- Hair loss
- Increased skin pigmentation.
- Painful sexual intercourse
- Mood swings
- Low sex drive
- Unexplained weight gain or weight loss
- Weak bones
Signs and symptoms specific to the male sex
Signs and symptoms specific to the male sex are associated with testosterone hormone fluctuations. Some of the symptoms that are common in males are listed below:
- Gynecomastia or enlarged breasts in males can be related to pain and tenderness.
- Erectile dysfunction.
- Thinning hair or reduced hair growth
- Loss of muscle mass
- Loss of bone strength
- Problems with concentration
Common signs and symptoms not specific to any sex
- Weight change ( weight gain or weight loss)
- Muscle weakness
- Joint pain and stiffness.
- Change in heart rate
- Constipation or diarrhea.
- Feeling of excessive heat or excessive cold when other people are feeling normal.
- Sweating more than usual
- Frequent urination
- Increased thirst and increased hunger
- Irritability, anxiety, and depression
- Dry skin
- Puffy face
- Purple or pink stretch marks
- Change in sex drive
- Hair loss
- Impaired growth and development in children
Causes of Hormonal Imbalance
Hormonal fluctuation occurs naturally in the body. Hormone levels naturally rise and fall throughout your life.
Specific periods of life can result in dramatic fluctuations in hormone levels, such as puberty, pregnancy, and menopause.
Other conditions associated with lifestyle and medication intake can cause hormonal fluctuations. However, these conditions are generally reversible by a change in lifestyle or medications. These causes include:
- Steroid intake
- Certain medications
Furthermore, other causes of hormonal imbalances are associated with medical conditions and require specific diagnostic tools and treatment.
These conditions can be broadly classified into tumors, autoimmune conditions, and injuries to hormone-secreting glands. Let us discuss each of these conditions.
The overgrowth of tissue in endocrine glands can cause hormonal imbalance. A few examples of these endocrine tumors are:
- Adrenal tumors
- Carcinoid tumors
- Medullary cancer of the thyroid
- Adenomas such as pituitary adenoma, adrenal adenoma, parathyroid adenoma
Injury to the endocrine glands
Any form of injury to the hormone-secreting endocrine glands can cause hormonal imbalance. A few examples of injury to endocrine glands are:
- Accidental injury during surgery: Parathyroid glands can commonly be injured during thyroid surgery
- Excessive blood loss: Excess loss of blood due to any cause may compromise blood flow to the endocrine glands causing its damage. For example, Sheehan syndrome is a condition in which excess blood loss during childbirth can damage the pituitary gland.
- Bacterial or viral infections: Waterhouse–Friederichsen syndrome (WFS) is defined as adrenal gland failure due to bleeding into the adrenal glands, commonly caused by severe bacterial infection.
- Radiation therapy: Excess radiation exposure particularly affects the thyroid gland and its functioning.
- Traumatic brain injury can injure the pituitary gland or hypothalamus.
Sometimes the immune system of the body accidentally starts attacking the hormone-producing endocrine gland, resulting in hormonal imbalance.
Some of the autoimmune conditions causing hormonal imbalance are:
- Hashimoto’s disease.
- Graves’ disease.
- Type 1 diabetes.
- Addison’s disease.
- Polyglandular syndromes.
Diagnosis of Hormonal Imbalance
If you have any of the symptoms mentioned above, you might be having a hormonal imbalance, and you should see your health care provider for a diagnosis.
You can expect your doctor to ask questions about your symptoms, general health, and medications. You should provide them with all the information, including information about any vitamins, supplements, or herbal medicines that you are taking.
Then the doctor might examine you based on your symptoms. Some specific examinations include thyroid examinations and pelvic examinations.
Based on the history and examination findings, certain tests might be ordered. There might be the involvement of more than one test.
Some of the tests that might be ordered are:
You might have to give a sample of blood for testing. Most hormone imbalances can be diagnosed with a blood test.
Some hormones tested in the blood are thyroid, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and cortisol.
Mostly, urine tests are done to test the level of hormones explicitly related to the menstrual cycle, such as follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).
Several imaging tests can be done to identify certain pathologies like cysts, tumors, or other abnormalities. Ultrasound is the most common investigation that is performed to diagnose hormonal imbalances.
Other radiological investigations performed are magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), X-ray, thyroid scans, etc.
Sometimes your doctor may order a biopsy, in which a tissue sample is taken from the gland and examined under a microscope. It helps to examine the changes at the cellular level and is helpful for the diagnosis of cancer.
There are also home testing kits available that help diagnose several conditions. The home testing kit for menopause measures the level of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) in the urine.
There are also home testing kits available that use saliva or blood to measure various hormone levels such as cortisol, thyroid hormones, and sex hormones such as progesterone and testosterone.
However, you must be aware of the quality of home testing kits and always discuss your test results with your healthcare provider.
Treatment of Hormonal Imbalances
A primary healthcare provider can diagnose hormonal imbalances, but the management is generally planned by specialist doctors known as endocrinologists.
Treatment generally depends on what is causing the hormonal imbalance and whether the hormone is too much or too little.
Hormone replacement therapy is the primary treatment if your hormone levels are below normal. Depending on which hormone is deficient, you may use either an injection or oral medication (pills).
Depending on the underlying cause, there are numerous treatment options if your hormone levels are higher than usual. Medication, surgery, radiation therapy, or a combination of any of these are available options.
Some common treatment modalities are mentioned below:
- Birth Control Hormones like estrogen and progesterone can help to alleviate symptoms of problems with periods, such as heavy periods or irregular periods.
- Estrogen is also available in the form of vaginal cream or tablets, which helps to reduce pain associated with vaginal dryness. Hormone replacement therapy in the form of estrogen and progesterone helps control the symptoms associated with menopause, such as hot flashes and night sweats.
- Antiandrogen medicine helps to limit the symptoms associated with excessive male hormones like acne and facial hair growth.
- Clomifene and letrozole are medicines that induce ovulation and are helpful for women suffering from polycystic ovarian syndrome(PCOS) trying to get pregnant.
- Anti-diabetic medicines: These medicines help to control blood sugar levels in diabetic patients.
- Levothyroxine: The medicine can replace thyroid hormone in people suffering from its deficiency.
Many natural supplements on the market claim to treat hormonal imbalances, but they are mostly not backed by scientific evidence. So, you need to consult your doctor before considering natural supplements.
Under natural remedies, various lifestyle advice can also be considered.
- Black cohosh, Dong Quai, red clover, and evening primrose oil for hot flashes caused by menopause
- Ginseng for irritability, anxiety, and sleep disturbances caused by menopause
- Ginseng and maca for erectile dysfunction
- Maintaining appropriate body weight
- Eating a balanced nutritious diet
- Practicing good personal hygiene.
- Exercising regularly
- Reducing stress
- Practicing yoga, and meditation
- Avoiding packaged food and sugary products
- Avoid spicy and hot foods or drinks, especially when you have hot flashes.
Hormones are involved in regulating and processing various functions in our body. Hormonal imbalance leads to a range of clinical conditions with different symptoms.
So, you need to seek treatment as soon as possible if you start experiencing symptoms associated with hormonal imbalance. Your doctor might order certain tests to diagnose the condition and plan for the appropriate management.
- Naveed, S., Ghayas, S., & Hameed, A. (2015). Hormonal imbalance and its causes in young females. Journal of Innovations in Pharmaceuticals and Biological Sciences, 2(1), 12-13.
- Adaikan, P. G., & Srilatha, B. (2003). Oestrogen-mediated hormonal imbalance precipitates erectile dysfunction. International journal of impotence research, 15(1), 38-43.
- Cheng, C. H., Chen, L. R., & Chen, K. H. (2022). Osteoporosis due to hormone imbalance: an overview of the effects of estrogen deficiency and glucocorticoid overuse on bone turnover. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 23(3), 1376.
- Khmil, M., Khmil, S., & Marushchak, M. (2020). Hormone Imbalance in Women with Infertility Caused by Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: Is There a Connection with Body Mass Index?. Open Access Macedonian Journal of Medical Sciences, 8(B), 731-737.
- Hammond, C. B. (1996). Menopause and hormone replacement therapy: an overview. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 87(2), 2S-15S.
- Karaca, Z., Laway, B. A., Dokmetas, H. S., Atmaca, H., & Kelestimur, F. (2016). Sheehan syndrome. Nature Reviews Disease Primers, 2(1), 1-15.
- Ferguson, J. H., & Chapman, O. D. (1948). Fulminating meningococcic infections and the so-called Waterhouse-Friderichsen syndrome. The American journal of pathology, 24(4), 763.
- Scolaro, K. L., Lloyd, K. B., & Helms, K. L. (2008). Devices for home evaluation of women’s health concerns. American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, 65(4), 299-314.