Hormonal imbalances occur when there is too much or too little of a hormone in the bloodstream. Because of their essential role in the body, even small hormonal imbalances can cause side effects throughout the body.
“One of the most common things that I often see women for are hormonal disorders,” says LaReesa M. Ferdinand, M.D., a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist at Heart of Florida OB/GYN Associates. “Some of the common symptoms might be irregular bleeding or what some people may know as menopausal symptoms. However, hormonal disorders have a cast-web of different symptoms.”
What Are Hormones?
Hormones are chemicals produced by glands in the endocrine system. Hormones travel through the bloodstream to the tissues and organs, delivering messages that tell the organs what to do and when to do it.
“Hormones are like little messengers in your body,” says Dr. Ferdinand. “You remember that little game you used to play when you were little, and it was the gossip game? You had to whisper something along the line, and what happened? At the end of the line, it was always the wrong message. So that’s how our hormones play with each other. Often, for women, when there’s this miscommunication, it can present in many ways.”
Hormones are vital for regulating most major bodily processes, and a hormonal imbalance can affect a wide range of bodily functions. Hormones help regulate:
- Metabolism and appetite
- Heart rate
- Sleep cycle
- Reproductive cycle and sexual function
- General growth and development
- Mood and stress levels
- Body temperature
Hormonal Imbalances in Women
Women naturally experience specific periods of hormonal imbalance throughout their lifetime, including during:
- Pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding
- Perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause
Women are also at risk of developing different types of hormonal imbalance disorders than men because they have different endocrine organs and cycles.
“A lot of people know about the hormone estrogen,” says Dr. Ferdinand. “The thing is, estrogen doesn’t likely play by itself; there are other hormones involved. When a woman has hormonal dysfunctions or disorders, it can have an array or constellation of symptoms. Therefore, oftentimes, I treat a spectrum of what someone might be going through, early part of menopause or post-menopause. Or just the fact of being a woman when all those hormones are miscommunicating.”
Medical conditions that cause irregular hormonal imbalances in women include:
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Hormone replacement or birth control medications
- Early menopause
- Primary ovarian insufficiency (POI)
- Ovarian cancer
Hormonal imbalances in women can cause the following symptoms:
- Heavy, irregular, or painful periods
- Osteoporosis (weak, brittle bones)
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Vaginal dryness
- Breast tenderness
- Constipation and diarrhea
- Acne during or just before menstruation
- Increased hair growth on the face, neck, chest, or back
- Weight gain
What Is Menopause?
Menopause is the natural cessation of ovarian function and menstruation. It can occur between the ages of 42 and 56 but usually occurs around the age of 51, when the ovaries stop producing eggs and estrogen levels decline. At that time, the length of a woman’s menstruation cycle will start to vary and may involve skipping periods.
“The technical definition of menopause is the absence of a menstrual cycle for a year,” says Dr. Ferdinand. “However, there are a certain array of symptoms that can come along even before you have an absence of your period. There can be irregular bleeding, and there can be on and off hot flashes or night sweats.”
The ovaries are the source of estrogen and progesterone, two essential hormones that control the reproductive system, including the menstrual cycle and fertility in women. During menopause, the number of ovarian follicles decreases, and the ovaries become less responsive to two other vital hormones involved in reproduction—Luteinizing Hormone (LH) and Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH).
As the ovaries age and release fewer hormones, FSH and LH can no longer perform their normal functions to regulate estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. These inevitable changes in hormones and the natural decline of estrogen levels during menopause can impact a woman’s health for years at a time.
Decreased Sexual Desire
Lower estrogen and testosterone levels beginning in perimenopause can affect sexual function through vaginal dryness and decreased libido. Hot flashes and night sweats can also drain a woman’s energy and undermine the desire for sex as a result.
“Sometimes, my husband says he can’t stand being in the room with me anymore because my mood is so erratic,” Dr. Ferdinand laughs. “Often patients don’t want to talk about sex or lack of sexual desire when they come to see me. But sexual function and sexual health are very common and very important.”
“One of the things that can happen too is that women realize they’re not lubricating normally or it’s more painful with sex,” Dr. Ferdinand continues. “There are millions of variations of menopausal symptoms, and there are different ways to treat them.”
To learn more about menopause or female hormonal disorders, please feel free to contact us. We’ll be happy to answer any of your questions and address any of your concerns.