10 Signs You May Have a Hormonal Imbalance

The chemical messengers of your body, hormones, travel to each organ through your bloodstream and regulate vital processes, such as metabolism and reproduction.

The most commonly fluctuating hormones of your body are estrogen, progesterone and testosterone (sex hormones), thyroid (metabolism hormone), adrenaline (energy hormone), cortisol (stress hormone) and melatonin (sleep hormone).

Women experience greater hormonal changes than men. While both boys and girls go through puberty, women experience several additional defining stages throughout their lives – menstruation, pregnancy, postpartum, premenopause and, finally, menopause.

All these greatly change a woman’s body and cause her hormones to fluctuate. Being vital to key processes in the body, hormonal fluctuations significantly affect her overall mental and physical well-being.

Whenever we hear the phrase “hormonal imbalance”, our mind instantly procures an image of a flustered, hyperactive woman. This is a sad state of affairs as it reflects the negativity and insensitivity associated with this condition.

While one should consult a doctor when a hormonal imbalance occurs, the first step toward treatment begins with identifying the issue.

Here are 10 signs that you may have a hormonal imbalance.

1. Weight Gain or Loss

If you are noticing fluctuation in your weight, it can be due to hormonal changes in the body.

The thyroid gland secretes hormones that regulate metabolism and, consequently, weight gain or loss. If chills, fatigue, dry skin and constipation are accompanying symptoms, your thyroid gland might be producing fewer hormones than needed to control your weight.

Furthermore, when your hormones are out of balance, you stress profusely. This causes your body to pump adrenaline to produce energy and cortisol to maintain that energy.

2. Constant Fatigue and Weakness

Fatigue is a common symptom of a hormonal imbalance, especially in menopausal and postmenopausal women. Cortisol, a hormone produced in the adrenal glands during times of stress, is often a contributor to fatigue.

Cortisol levels directly affect the secretion of serotonin – a hormone that makes us happy. Hence, if you’re experiencing depression and worthlessness while also feeling tired, it is a sure-fire sign of a hormonal imbalance.

Furthermore, fatigue can be due to lack of a thyroid hormone that controls the body’s metabolism.

3. Hot Flashes and Night Sweats

If you suddenly feel heat coming from nowhere and spreading through your body, accompanied by sweating, palpitation and body tingling, you might be experiencing “hot flashes”.

If you also find yourself inexplicably and profusely sweating at night, it might be a case of night sweats.

The hypothalamus is a part of the brain responsible for controlling several body functions, including body temperature.

A hormonal imbalance disrupts your body’s levels of estrogen – the primary female sex hormone – and diminishes its production.

Reduced estrogen levels send confusing signals to the hypothalamus, causing it to suspect body overheating. This causes the hypothalamus to activate its coping mechanism to cool down the body through excessive sweating.

According to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Women’s Health, hot flashes and night sweats affect 75 percent of perimenopausal women and are the most common symptoms of menopausal transition.

4. Insomnia and Sleep Problems

Insomnia is a common symptom of menopause in women. Not one but several hormones are responsible for causing insomnia when they fall out of balance.

The role of progesterone – a female sex hormone – has recently emerged in hormone-related insomnia. A 2005 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine states that progesterone has a drowsy, sleep-inducing effect on the body. When progesterone levels drop, we feel alert and awake.

In addition, estrogen promotes REM sleep – a deep sleep characterized by random eye movements, relaxed muscles and vivid dreams. It also increases the hours of sleep and reduces the number of post-sleep abrupt awakenings.

Furthermore, estrogen helps regulate the body’s temperature. Therefore, low levels of estrogen cause poor sleep and increase sleep-obstructing night sweats.

Perpetually high cortisol due to hormonal stress also disrupts REM sleep.

5. Hair Loss

While more common among men, hair loss is also a common premenopausal, pregnancy and post-pregnancy symptom in women.

According to the American Hair Loss Association, testosterone (a male hormone present in women in trace quantities) converts to its derivative hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT) by interacting with an enzyme found in hair follicles.

DHT harms and kills hair follicles, leading to hair loss. A hormonal imbalance accelerates the production of testosterone, causing more DHT conversions and greater hair loss.

A 2007 study published in the International Journal of Dermatology notes that when hair follicles were treated with 5 microg/ml concentration of testosterone, they exhibited reduced growth and elongation.

6. Mood Swings and Depression

A 2011 study published in Psychological Medicine notes that the risk of major depression is higher in women during and immediately after menopause than when they are premenopausal.

Serotonin and endorphin are your body’s “happiness-producing” hormones. While endorphins are produced by the pituitary gland, serotonin is secreted by the thyroid gland.

At high levels, these hormones inhibit the perception of pain, while at low levels they inhibit feelings of happiness and positivity.

Mood swings are caused when these hormones go haywire. A hormonal imbalance can cause your glands to go into overdrive one minute, creating bouts of ecstasy.

Similarly, your glands may slow down the next minute, inhibiting production of these happy hormones and leading to feelings of misery.

7. Indigestion and Gastrointestinal Discomfort

One of the most overlooked symptoms of a hormonal imbalance is indigestion. Hormones play a key role in practically every function of your body, including digestion.

Gastrin, secretin and cholecystokinin are three hormones found in the gastrointestinal tract that contribute to digestion by assisting in breaking down food for quick absorption into the bloodstream.

An imbalance in these digestive hormones leads to poor food breakdown, causing indigestion characterized by bloating, abdominal cramps, a burning sensation in the stomach, belching and nausea.

Furthermore, a 2012 study published in Gender Medicine notes that gastrointestinal discomforts like abdominal pain, bowel pain and bloating occurring during menstruation and early menopause are mainly due to reduced estrogen and progesterone production.

8. Loss of Libido

Hormone production is especially out of balance in women after childbirth, before menopause and after menopause.

According to a 2001 study published in Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism, testosterone is produced by a woman’s ovaries and directly determines sex drive.

As the performance of the ovaries declines with age, so does the production of testosterone. This causes a decrease in libido.

The same hormone regulates sex drive in men. A 2006 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism finds a positive correlation between reduced testosterone and libido levels in men.

Reduced testosterone may also cause erectile dysfunction, according to a 2003 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

Estrogen is another sex hormone secreted by the ovaries, and the age-associated reduced production of estrogen causes poor blood flow to the clitoris, vagina and vulva. This causes vaginal dryness and also inhibits genital nerve response and arousal.

9. Sudden Food Cravings

When we undergo a hormonal imbalance, our adrenal gland can have a two-fold effect on our food cravings. On one hand, it can spike the cortisol levels up due to chronic hormonal stress, and on the other hand, it eventually experiences a burnout, leading to an underwhelming production of cortisol.

Both these situations affect our blood sugar, which in turn affects our hunger. High levels of cortisol induce accelerated blood sugar levels, which lead to hunger pangs.

Similarly, low levels of cortisol lead to dangerously low blood sugar levels. Since sugar converts into energy in the muscles, low levels of sugar cause fatigue, sending a “hunger” signal to the body.

Another form of hormonal imbalance occurs when the thyroid gland creates fewer thyroid hormones than needed. This also contributes to low blood sugar and causes sugar cravings.

Cravings are common symptoms in premenstrual girls, when their bodies undergo a lot of hormonal changes.

10. Dry Eyes

Dry eye syndrome occurs when your eyes do not produce enough tears for adequate moisturization, or when the tear film’s substituents (oil, water and protein) are out of balance.

It is uncomfortable and often painful and can be due to a hormonal imbalance in the body. Hormones help regulate eye function and directly affect eye health.

Testosterone (androgen) aids the functions of the meibomian and lacrimal glands, situated on the cornea. These glands maintain a healthy tear-film balance and regulate their production.

When you have a hormonal imbalance causing the testosterone production of your body to decelerate, it induces inactivity in these glands. This leads to dry eyes.

A 2013 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism notes that chronic testosterone deficiency is a primary factor in dry eye syndrome.