Hormone “imbalances” get blamed for a lot from weight gain to mood changes, but what is a hormone imbalance and how do you know if you have one?
As an Ob/Gyn, women ask me all the time to check their hormones to look for an imbalance. In truth, it’s not that simple...
For starters, there is no real medical definition of a “hormone imbalance.” In women, our hormones change both on a 24 hr cycle and on a monthly cycle. There are 2 situations in which women’s hormones are relatively stable or “balanced” from day-to-day and that is menopause and when you are using the birth control pill, patch or vaginal ring. Otherwise, as long as you are healthy, your hormones should be changing throughout the day and the month.
That being said, there are a variety of conditions that can cause hormonal problems, so let’s talk about some of the most common symptoms.
Common Symptoms of a Hormonal Issue:
Irregular periods. A normal menstrual cycle, when a woman is not on birth control, occurs every 21-35 days and lasts on average 3-5 days. Hormonal problems can lead to more or less frequent periods or periods that last too long or are too heavy.
Male pattern hair growth. Women who experience thick, dark hair growth on their face, or in the space between their belly-button and their mons pubis (a happy trail) may be experiencing a hormonal issue. This can also be normal, depending on your ethnic and genetic background. Some women with hormonal issues loose hair in a male pattern with the loss concentrated around the temples.
Acne. There are many, many causes of acne but hormones can be one of them. This is often seen in women with an excess of male hormones. Even when hormones aren’t the route cause birth control that contains estrogen can help acne. Estrogen increases the body’s production of a protein called Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG). SHBG also binds male hormones preventing them from acting on the sebaceous glands in the skin and causing acne.
Feeling too cold or too hot. Issues with your thyroid being too low or too high can often make people intolerant of heat or cold. These symptoms often accompany weight gain in the case of cold intolerance, and weight loss in those who are experiencing heat intolerance.
If you think you may be experiencing a hormonal issue, talk to your doctor. Be wary of anyone who claims they can test your hormones through a sample of your saliva, these results are unreliable and should not be used to make any medical diagnosis or develop a treatment plan (not to mention they aren’t usually covered by insurance and are often expensive). Remember the above list is just a few of the many symptoms of a hormonal problem, and is not meant to replace a discussion with your physician.