Hormonal Imbalance Guide

Hormonal imbalance

Hormone balance handles many of the functions of the human body. Some vital functions are for controlling sleep, appetite, body temperature, mood, development, and many others. That is why having a hormonal imbalance brings about many changes, mostly negative and unpleasant ones that distort people’s health to a great extent. It is common to hear that women are more prone to suffer from hormonal imbalance; however, standardizing this would be a mistake. Men and women can have a hormonal imbalance at least once in their lifetime, at any stage (childhood, adolescence, adulthood).

What is a hormonal imbalance?

It is when the normal level of a hormone is increased or decreased. Recall that hormones are chemicals secreted by the endocrine glands. They travel through the bloodstream to reach their respective places of function.  There are over 30 hormones that control and regulate our body, and an alteration in any of them can mean a hormonal imbalance.

Although we experience physiological hormonal changes over time, they always maintain a balance. When this balance is broken, however small it may be, it produces consequences in the lives of those who suffer from it.

What are male and female hormones?

Many hormones regulate bodily functions found in both sexes; imbalances in insulin, steroids, growth hormones, thyroid hormones, and adrenaline can affect both men and women. There are also sex hormones, which, although found in both sexes, their concentration is different in men and women. These include androgens, which are typically male sex hormones, and estrogens, which are typically female.

Thus, the prime male sex hormone is testosterone, and the female ones are estrogen and progesterone. Therefore, we will divide men and women to discuss the most frequent causes and symptoms, as well as diagnoses and treatment.

Female hormonal imbalance

Causes

As is to be expected, many causes of female hormonal imbalance respond to changes in the woman’s physiology, according to the different stages she may go through, besides others that respond to hormonal alterations. Among them are:

  • Puberty
  • Pregnancy
  • Premature menopause
  • Menopause
  • Breastfeeding
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Birth control pills
  • Diabetes
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Hypogonadism
  • Cushing’s syndrome
  • Benign or cancerous tumors
  • Eating disorders
  • Stress
  • Hormone therapy
  • Thyroiditis
  • Congenital adrenal hyperplasia
  • Medications
  • Cancer treatments

Symptoms

All these symptoms are because of alterations in estrogen and progesterone levels.

  • Abundant, irregular, painful, irregular menstrual cycles
  • Absence of menstrual bleeding
  • Headaches or migraine
  • Insomnia
  • Weight gain
  • Hair loss
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Hirsutism
  • Acanthosis nigricans in areas of folds (groin, neck, armpits, breasts, among others)
  • Acne
  • Stretch marks
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Night sweats
  • Changes in breast sensitivity, coloring, or size
  • Decrease in sexual desire
  • Emotional and mood changes
  • Depression
  • Osteoporosis
  • Infertility

How to make a proper diagnosis?

Clinical signs and symptoms always guide the diagnosis. However, hormonal imbalances should be studied in depth.  Going to the family doctor periodically and performing annual check-ups is a way to detect this and any other health problem. A complete physical evaluation and complementing it with specific hormonal tests shows where the alteration is. Sometimes, a pelvic examination, ultrasound, and additional studies, such as tomography and scintigraphy, are also necessary.

Treatment

Treatment will always depend on the cause of the imbalance. They used different therapies for the most common problems; among them are:

  • Estrogen therapy
    • It is widely used in menopause at low doses, but since it is a systemic therapy, it can cause some complications.
  • Vaginal estrogens
    • Showed for those patients who suffer from vaginal dryness or pain during sexual intercourse. It is available in different presentations like pills, cream, or intravaginal ring; and being a local therapy, it prevents the complications of systemic therapy.
  • Hormonal contraceptives
    • They favor the regulation of the menstrual cycle, improve acne, and reduce facial hair. There are several presentations like pills, patches, injections, vaginal ring, intrauterine device.
  • Anti-androgenic medications
    • Women manifest masculine characteristics when androgens are elevated (hair loss, facial hair growth, and acne) because androgens are male sex hormones in both sexes. Therefore, they can opt for this therapy that blocks the effects of these hormones.

Male hormonal imbalance

Causes

In men, the causes of hormonal imbalance respond to alterations in testosterone levels mainly, and second, there may be alterations in the thyroid gland. Another causes:

  • Diabetes
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Hypogonadism
  • Cushing’s syndrome
  • Benign or cancerous tumors
  • Eating disorders
  • Stress
  • Hormone therapy
  • Thyroiditis
  • Congenital adrenal hyperplasia
  • Medications
  • Cancer treatments

Hypogonadism, or a decrease in testosterone levels affects 5 men out of 1000. Remember that testosterone naturally decreases with age after 30, but if there are alterations before this age, it may be a deficit because of another pathological cause.

Symptoms

As hypogonadism and thyroid gland disorders are the most common causes, the symptoms will be:

  • Decreased sexual desire
  • Decreased sexual performance
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Less tolerance to physical exercise
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • gynecomastia or breast tissue development
  • increased sensitivity of nipples or breast tissue
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Decreased beard and body hair growth
  • Decreased strength
  • Osteoporosis
  • Night sweats
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Feeling cold
  • Changes in mood and state of mind
  • Infertility

How to diagnose hormonal imbalance?

Making a diagnosis can be more complicated with men because men, unlike women, take longer to go to the doctor. This happens because they are embarrassed about the type of problem, they are present with or do not pay as much attention to small changes. However, when the hormonal imbalance becomes prolonged, all the symptoms will be much more marked, and the man will require medical attention. As in women, the diagnosis is based on signs and symptoms, a good interrogation, physical examination, and special complementary tests. Among these tests, one of the most used is the testosterone level in the blood at different times of the day. With it, we will evaluate if the values are altered. Other complementary tests include ultrasound, tomography, and sperm count.

Treatment

Similarly, treatment must respond to the cause. Typically:

  • Testosterone replacement therapy or to raise testosterone levels is usually the most used because this is the most common problem.
    • There are different ways to receive this treatment. Testosterone comes in different presentations (pills, injections, gel, patches), and there are different ways to show it according to the patient’s needs.

Some general recommendations always contribute to the clinical improvement of the different hormonal disorders, such as, for example:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
    • Maintaining a normal BMI helps regulate menstrual cycles, and in men, it improves erectile function.
  • Eat properly (antioxidant juices and fruits and hormone-free dairy products)
  • Include foods such as dark chocolate, nuts, chickpeas, and salmon in the diet
  • Avoid canned or packaged foods
  • Drink enough water
  • Get enough sleep
  • Stay active and exercise
  • Take care of your skin. Hormonal imbalances are usually associated with excess oil in the skin, which contributes to the appearance of acne
    • Maintaining clean skin and controlling sebum will improve the dermal appearance
  • Control stress and anxiety
  • Minimize alcohol consumption

Hormones regulate a wide range of processes occurring in the body. They regulate appetite, metabolism, sleep cycles, heart rate, sexual function, general mood, stress level, and body temperature. So, when there is an imbalance, the symptoms can become general and affect the person in all spheres (physical, social, and psychological).

Hormonal imbalance is a pathology that can bring multiple disorders affecting people’s lifestyles. Seeing a doctor at any characteristic symptom or having annual check-ups is one of the best ways to diagnose and treat it in time.

We must not forget the psychological support that should be provided to the patient because dealing with hormonal changes is difficult. On the positive side, there are advanced, non-invasive treatments with few side effects.

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