What does a hormone imbalance look like? In women, it can take a lot of different shapes. That’s why identifying an imbalance as the main cause behind a symptom can be so difficult (apart from the fact that many women struggle to advocate for themselves in the doctor’s office). But it’s not impossible.
According to Dr. Apurva Shah, MD, FAGOG, obstetrician-gynecologist at Saint Vincent Hospital, and medical advisor for the company Mira, there are a number of symptoms that women should never neglect — even if they feel as though societal standards or certain medical professionals have told them otherwise.
The Symptoms of Hormone Imbalance You Should Watch For
While it’s easy to play off certain health symptoms as responses to everyday stress or fatigue, that doesn’t mean they should be ignored. As noted by Dr. Shah, the symptoms of a potential hormone imbalance that require medical attention include:
- Hot flashes. These could be a sign of thyroid dysfunction or premature ovarian insufficiency (POI). (Also known as premature ovarian failure, POI occurs when a person’s ovaries stop working normally before they turn 40 years old. This condition is different from premature menopause, which is when your periods stop before age 40.)
- Irregular periods. Even if you are at an age where irregular periods are a sign of perimenopause or menopause, you need to tell your doctor about them, regardless. Shah notes that irregular periods could be a sign of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), decreased ovarian reserve, or a thyroid abnormality.
- Acne and hirsutism (excess hair, often around the mouth and chin). Adult acne and excess facial hair could also be signs of PCOS. Or they may signal an androgen tumor — a rare type of tumor that secretes sex hormones.
- Breast discharge. According to Shah, this may be a sign of a prolactin tumor (a noncancerous tumor in the pituitary gland) or breast cancer.
- Unintentional excessive weight gain. This may be a symptom caused by thyroid dysfunction or Cushing’s syndrome, a disease characterized by when your body produces too much cortisol (the hormone the body produces in response to stress) over a long period of time.
- Decreased sex drive. Though sex drive is complicated and may be difficult to discuss in a doctor’s office (as this survey shows), it’s important that you talk about it with a health professional. Shah notes that a decrease in libido could be caused by a drop in testosterone.
Getting evaluated by your doctor — preferably one who specializes in women’s health — may help you pinpoint the root cause of your issues. At the end of the day, we can’t diagnose ourselves, and may be causing harm by doing so! That said, by watching out for these symptoms and reporting them to your doctor, you will be able to get the advice and help you need.