Your hormones are like chemical messengers that deliver changes throughout your body. Over the course of your lifetime, hormones shape your body and mind. Anyone can have a hormone shift or imbalance. It’s not limited by age or gender.
For women, hormones shift significantly during adolescence, pregnancy, and menopause, helping the body adapt to these phases. Imbalances may be particularly noticeable for both women and men as they advance through middle age and experience hormonal shifts.
Inevitable vs. Imbalance
Some hormone shifts fall within normal ranges. For example, the average woman hits menopause around age 50 and experiences a drop in estrogen and progesterone production. In response, the pituitary gland reacts by producing more follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).
For some women, the hormonal changes of menopause fall outside normal levels. Women may experience extreme effects like sudden hair loss, sleeplessness, or depression. A doctor can perform tests that reveal what’s happening at the hormonal level.
About 20% of men over age 60 experience andropause. Symptoms include low libido, loss of erectile function, decreased energy, and cognitive impairment. This may or may not be defined by a doctor as a hormonal imbalance that needs medical intervention.
Another type of hormone imbalance is improper thyroid function, which affects 30 million Americans. The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland in the neck that affects the muscles, metabolism, and body temperature. A doctor can test thyroid stimulating hormone to determine if your thyroid is functioning correctly.
One indication that you may have developed a hormone imbalance is an increasing feeling of brain fog. This hard-to-define symptom involves a lack of clear thinking, slow decision-making, and an inability to put things into words.
The Mayo Clinic recommends seeing a doctor about brain fog to distinguish among several causes: hormonal issues, normal cognitive decline, and the more serious decline of dementia. Your doctor, perhaps with the help of a neurologist, can clear things up.
Have your bowel habits or periods changed significantly? If so, it could be another indication of a hormone imbalance.
Irregular periods can come with perimenopause - the time period before menopause - or can be a sign of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and other health challenges. Changes in bowel habits can indicate a wide variety of issues, from infections to disease.
Keep a journal of these kinds of changes and share it with your family doctor or gynecologist.
Fatigue and Sleep
If you’ve always been a good sleeper but suddenly have issues with sleeplessness, your hormones could be the culprit. Same goes for fatigue and exhaustion: If it’s new, it’s worth mentioning to the doctor.
Your hormones help your body regulate its normal sleep-wake cycle. An imbalance can throw off this cycle and leave you feeling sleepy and wakeful at the wrong times.
Acne and other skin issues can be fairly normal during certain life stages, like adolescence and perimenopause. But if your acne suddenly seems severe, or involves pain, swelling, or open sores, it’s time to open a discussion with your doctor about hormone-related skin problems.
Appetite and Weight
Significant changes to your appetite and weight can also have a hormonal cause. Your weight is a complex issue and loss or gain can have multiple causes, including hormone-related appetite fluctuations.
Over time, some weight gain is normal. It happens across ethnic, gender, and cultural lines. A doctor can help you determine whether weight changes fall in the normal range, whether they are hormonal in cause, and how you can best address it.
Changes in your sexual health can also be attributed to hormones. For menopausal women, lower estrogen and progesterone can cause vaginal dryness and loss of libido. In aging men, hormonal changes are usually noticed in loss of muscle mass and reduced erectile function.
If you’re struggling with a hormone imbalance, it’s likely that you’ve felt its effects on your mood. Our hormones create a cascade of changes in the body that can affect our mental health. You may feel anxious, depressed, hopeless, angry, obsessive, or empty inside. Discuss these feelings with your doctor and protect your mental health.
Wondering whether you have a hormone imbalance? Reach out to the experts at Johnson Memorial Health Women's Health Specialists.