Medically reviewed by Dr. Stacy Hengisman MD and Felice Ramallo MSRD.
Mood swings, breakouts, and weight fluctuations are a part of life. But they can also be signs of something deeper. One possible explanation is a hormone imbalance, which means there’s too much or too little of one or more hormones in your blood. And hormone imbalances can be a sign of some health conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), Hashimoto’s, and more.
Signals that you’re dealing with a hormone imbalance can manifest in many ways—though, of course, experiencing some (or many) of these symptoms doesn’t automatically mean you have a hormone imbalance or disorder. You’ll need to visit a medical provider and undergo testing, usually in the form of bloodwork, to get a diagnosis. Still, it’s helpful to know what signs and symptoms to check for if you think you may have a hormone imbalance, so you can pay attention to your body and know when to seek a medical opinion.
What are hormones?
Hormones are your body’s chemical messengers. They’re created in glands and carry information through the bloodstream to different parts of the body. Different hormones affect different bodily functions, including your mood, sexual function, metabolism, body temperature, growth and development, the sleep-wake cycle, and reproduction. (So: almost everything.)
Why do hormone imbalances matter?
It’s normal for hormone levels to fluctuate throughout life (and even throughout the day). They change most during puberty, during ovulation, before menstrual periods, and during the menopausal transition. But when they’re triggered to change in a way that they’re not supposed to, even a slight variation can cause a disruption in your body’s normal processes and may be a sign that you’re dealing with a condition that requires medical attention. Often, hormone imbalances also cause physical and/or mental discomfort.
Common symptoms of hormone imbalance
Below are all possible signs of a hormone imbalance—but they could also be a sign of something else, or even nothing in particular. Bodies are weird! You’ll need to check with a medical provider to get an official diagnosis.
This also isn’t an exhaustive list of everything that could be a symptom of a hormonal imbalance. (Again, bodies are weird.) But these are some of the most common signs for women, what they mean, and how they might manifest.
The reason lots of people start breaking out once they hit their early teens? Puberty, and the hormonal ebbs and flows that come with it. If you’re experiencing acne well into your adult life, this could be a sign of a hormonal imbalance. Hormonal acne is caused by hormonal changes that trigger an overproduction in sebum, an oily substance that comes from your sebacous glands. It’s often associated with PCOS and other ovarian conditions, but it’s also common to experience hormonal acne during menstrual periods, pregnancy, and menopause. In the latter cases, having hormonal acne doesn’t mean that you have a hormonal imbalance; it just means that you’re experiencing the hormonal fluctuations that tend to come with these events. If you deal with acne on your face and body when you aren’t in an expected state of hormonal change, you may want to check if it’s being caused by a hormonal imbalance.
- Irregular periods
Lots of hormones, including estrogen, are involved in the menstrual cycle. This means that missing periods, spotting between periods, periods that don’t arrive consistently, and heavy or painful periods can all be signs of a hormone imbalance. This is often associated with PCOS, but can also be caused by hormone imbalances brought on by stress, thyroid function, and more.
A proper hormone balance is required to drive an effective reproductive cycle. For this reason, infertility is one of the most common conditions caused by hormone imbalances. It’s associated with PCOS, hyperprolactinemia, and anovulation (which may all be connected themselves). A lack or irregular number of certain hormones can prevent the body from producing and releasing eggs, which are vital for conception.
- Increased hair growth
Excess hair growth, or hirsutism, is another common sign of a hormone balance. (It’s usually associated with PCOS.) In women, it usually means that thick, dark hair grows in a pattern typically associated with men, on the face (often on the lips and chin), back, neck, stomach, and chest. It may mean that you have more of the male hormone testosterone than necessary. If your hair growth is linked to a hormone imbalance, you may be prescribed an androgen receptor blocker like spironolactone, which can reduce the thickness and shade of the hair.
- Thinning hair
On the flipside, both male and female-pattern baldness can be caused by hormone imbalances. In women, it’s usually caused by DHT, a hormone that’s similar to testosterone but is more potent. An increase in DHT may be caused by stress or thyroid issues. Your body may also be more sensitive to DHT if you have a lower level of estrogen. This is why people going through menopause—when the body sharply decreases its production of estrogen—may experience thinning hair.
- Weight gain
Unintentional, uncontrollable weight gain may be caused by a hormone imbalance. This is because at least nine hormones, from insulin to cortisol, have an impact on your weight. They can impact your hunger cues, how your body processes food, and how it stores fat—so if any are out of balance, you may find yourself gaining weight without knowing why.
- Constipation and/or diarrhea
Your gut health and your hormones are interconnected—which means that constipation and diarrhea could be caused by out-whack-hormones. (Though, of course, a hormone imbalance isn’t the only cause for digestive trouble.) One study found that administering estrogen (a hormone associated with female sexual characteristics) to male and female mice increased likelihood of constipation. Fluctuating hormones may also cause food to pass through the gut faster than usual, which can cause diarrhea. If you’re experiencing digestive issues along with any other symptoms of hormonal imbalances, it may be worth checking with your doctor about your hormones.
- Mood swings
Anxiety, depression, irritability, nerves. There’s a lot that can cause these shifts in mood, but one possible cause? You guessed it: a hormone imbalance. Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone all have an impact on mood. They affect different people in different ways (especially if you have a history with mood disorders) but if you’re suddenly feeling moody or experiencing anxiety or depression for no apparent reason, a hormone imbalance may be to blame.
- Change in sex drive
Having a low sex drive doesn’t necessarily mean you’re dealing with a hormone imbalance. But if you’ve noticed a drop in your libido, it might be worth checking in with your doctor. There are a few potential causes of low libido, but one could be that you’re dealing wtiht a reproductive health condition that’s accompanied by hormone imbalances, like PCOS.
What to do if you think you have a hormone imbalance
If you’re dealing with any of the above symptoms, make an appointment with your primary care provider. Try to keep track of your symptoms—it can be especially helpful to write down what you’re experiencing and when—and come prepared with any questions you have. This will make it easier for you and your doctor to get some answers.
Allara Health provides personalized treatment for hormonal, metabolic & gynecological conditions that utilizes a holistic plan that merges nutrition, lifestyle, medication and supplementation, and ongoing, expert support to heal your body.