Hormones are chemicals your body makes that travel through your bloodstream to help organs and tissues perform specific functions. They control growth, fertility, sexual function, emotions, and your body’s ability to absorb and use nutrients. Hormone disorders are the result of a hormonal imbalance, which means you have too much or too little of one or more hormones.
September is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and Ovarian Cancer awareness month, both of which are related to female hormonal health. In recognition, we have compiled common symptoms of hormonal irregularities, details on the most common disorders, and things you can do to keep your hormones healthy.
It is important to note that being diagnosed with a hormone disorder can be extremely emotionally painful for women who have been trying to conceive for an extended period. If you are struggling with a hormone imbalance that is causing issues with fertility, you are not alone. About 10 percent of women in the U.S. have difficulty getting or staying pregnant. The more you and your doctor know about your overall health, the easier it will be to establish a treatment plan and identify your next steps to growing your family.
Symptoms of Hormone Disorders
Symptoms depend on the nature of the hormone imbalance. You may experience only a few symptoms and they may not be the same as another woman, even if she has the same condition.
Common symptoms include:
- Irregular (frequent, infrequent, absent) or heavy menstrual periods
- Excessive hair growth on your face, chest, abdomen, or back
- Hair loss or thinning
- Weight gain or loss
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Darkening of the skin around the groin, under the breasts, and in the creases of the neck
- Skin tags
- Uterine bleeding (not due to menstruation)
- Tenderness of the breasts
- Vaginal dryness
- Vaginal atrophy
- Change in sex drive
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Hot flashes and/or night sweats
If you are experiencing any symptoms listed above, we encourage you to make an appointment with your gynecologist. Many providers can offer in-office blood or urine testing, or imaging tests to identify what is going on and help you establish a treatment plan. It may be helpful to journal about your symptoms for a couple weeks prior to your appointment so that you can accurately describe what you are experiencing.
Common Hormone Disorders
The most common female hormone disorders include:
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): This is the most common of the female hormone disorders. It causes irregular periods, ovarian cysts, weight gain, and fertility problems. PCOS affects about 1 in 10 women of reproductive age.
- Thyroid disease: This includes hypothyroidism (too little thyroid hormone) and hyperthyroidism (too much thyroid hormone). Women are more than 5 times more likely than men to have a thyroid disorder.
- Hirsutism: This hormone disorder triggers the growth of excess hair, especially in places where women do not usually have much hair.
- Primary ovarian insufficiency: Also called premature ovarian failure, this disorder occurs when a woman’s ovaries stop working before the age of 40.
A hormone disorder diagnosis can be life-altering for a woman. You may experience increased feelings of anxiety and depression if a diagnosis interferes with plans you had for your life or family. If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression, we encourage you to talk to your doctor right away.
Lifestyle Changes Can Keep Your Hormones Balanced
If you are diagnosed with a hormone disorder, the good news is that there are many things you can do to ease or eliminate your symptoms. These lifestyle changes include:
- Eat a nutritious and balanced diet with healthy fats and proteins
- Exercise regularly
- Avoid alcohol
- Quit smoking
- Find ways to reduce and manage stress to avoid adrenal fatigue
- Practice yoga or meditation
- Avoid highly processed oils and foods
- Limit sugar and refined carbohydrates
- Avoid excessive exposure to environmental toxins from cleaning supplies, personal care products, etc..
- Buy organic fruits and vegetables when possible, especially if they are on the Environmental Working Group’s dirty dozen list
While all the lifestyle changes list above can be extremely helpful when you are dealing with a hormone disorder, it is most important to establish care with a gynecologist you trust. This will allow you to establish a care plan that is right for you.
Get Your Hormones Tested Regularly
Most people will experience one or two periods of hormonal imbalance in their lifetime, which makes it extremely important to get tested for imbalances regularly. Many health insurance companies cover annual blood testing as part of your well-woman exam. If you have not had a well-woman exam in over a year, we encourage you to reach out to your doctor today.
If your doctor decides they need to run tests on your hormones, they will likely have you do a combination of the following:
- Blood testing: Measure estrogen, testosterone, or thyroid hormone levels in the blood.
- Imaging: Use ultrasound, X-ray, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests to identify cysts or tumors that could cause the body to produce excess hormones.
- Urine testing: Measure levels of additional hormones, such as follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).
Need Help Scheduling an Appointment?
If you are a member of a healthcare plan that partners with Arizona Care Network, our care coordination team is here to help you find an in-network gynecologist (OB-GYN), schedule an appointment, and more! Contact the concierge by calling 602.406.7226 or emailing email@example.com.