Most of us are under the impression that menopause is the time when hormones start to go awry, leading us to overlook many of the factors that can throw off the body's hormone levels at any age — lifestyle, medication and pregnancy, just to name a few. It helps to remember that you know your body. And if you've been feeling "off" for some time, it's probably not all in your head.
It's possible that as many as 80 percent of women may suffer from a hormone imbalance sometime in their lifetime. To call hormone imbalance common among women of all ages would be an understatement, but it's something that's rarely talked about, making it even harder to seek medical treatment. But when hormones, needed to regulate countless systems in the body, are out of whack over the long-term, health can begin to suffer. While most of us associate hormones with mood, hormone fluctuations even have the potential to affect dental health.
"Hormone problems are quite common," advises Dr. Brad Douglas, OB/GYN and expert on JustAnswer.com. While age is the cause of some of these challenges (think: menopause), your menstrual cycle, thyroid issues and diabetes can also be the issue. Even more commonly, medication such as birth control pills can also throw off your body's chemistry. In addition, pregnancy frequently causes a shift in your hormones balance.
Although some women are genetically predisposed to hormonal imbalance, when it comes to body chemistry changes that you can manage, your lifestyle can also be the culprit. Inconsistent sleep patterns, lack of exercise and a poor diet (which can include too much calorie intake) can all throw your hormones out of whack. Stress can be responsible for disturbing the levels of your hormones as well.
So how do you know when your hormones have gone awry? "Hormonal imbalances in women usually present themselves as irregular or heavy bleeding vaginally," explains Douglas. Extreme changes in mood during certain times of every month is another sign of uneven levels of hormones, which can include pre-menstrual syndrome, or even pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder, according to Douglas.
Furthermore, anxiety, loss of appetite, insomnia and lack of concentration may also be symptoms in women who may have a hormonal imbalance -- along with symptoms such as sudden weight gain, a reduced sex drive, hot flashes and night sweats. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you have any of these signs.
Depending on the severity of hormonal imbalance symptoms, women who can tolerate the discomforts can live their day-to-day life without medication or treatment. However, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes to remedy or reduce the signs of hormonal imbalance, or even prescribe medication to bring your hormones back into equilibrium. Here are some options your doctor may want you to consider:
Lifestyle changes: Sometimes changes in your lifestyle can help minimize your risk of hormonal imbalance. A sensible diet, regular exercise and a regular sleep schedule are easy ways to keep your body's chemistry even.
Medication - Synthetic hormones are commonly prescribed to treat hormonal imbalance. "Depending on [their lifestyle], I usually prescribe birth control such as pills, the Nuvaring or the Orthoevra patch," says Douglas. "But I might also recommend an [antidepressant]." Some antidepressants, such as Celexa, Pristiq or Effexor can help minimize signs of hormonal imbalance, while other medication, such as Prempro, are commonly prescribed for menopausal symptoms in women. Most commonly, synthetic progesterone and estrogen are prescribed to balance out hormones.
In cases where the causes of hormonal imbalance symptoms in women are hard to pinpoint, genetic testing through urine, saliva or blood may be warranted. Once your doctor has reviewed your diagnosis, a treatment plan that may combine medication, synthetic hormones and lifestyle changes may be tailored to fit your needs. Most important, causes of hormonal imbalance in women can be best diagnosed if you talk to your doctor as soon as you think you see signs of hormonal imbalance, getting you on the road to a more balanced body chemistry sooner.
Originally published May 2011. Updated June 2016.
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