We normally associate the term "hormonal issues" with teenagers or women nearing menopause — but the truth is you can be hormonal at any age, and as many as 80 percent of women may suffer from a hormone imbalance at some point in their lives.
Age, pregnancy, medications, diet and exercise can all have an effect on the way your hormones function, and hormones are needed to regulate many of the systems in your body — so when they're off, it can make you feel pretty crappy and actually lead to long-term health problems.
So if hormones are so important and affect women of all ages, how come we don't hear about them that often? That's a good question, but getting to know your own body and the way you feel is an excellent way to figure out when you need to see a doctor about hormonal fluctuations.
"Hormone problems are quite common," advises Dr. Brad Douglas, OB-GYN and expert on JustAnswer. 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 hormonal 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 premenstrual syndrome or even premenstrual 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 lives 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 Ortho Evra 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 in which 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.
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Originally published May 2011. Updated February 2017.
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