As women, we understand that hormones have a role to play throughout our life.
Changing hormone levels control our menstrual cycles, from ovulation to uterine bleeding. A woman’s main hormones linked to reproduction include estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, which also impact puberty and menopause.1 Some changes to hormones are normal, while others are a concern.
What can cause hormonal changes, and what happens when our hormones do change?
The Importance of Hormones
Men and women alike have hormones, the body’s chemical messengers. Hormones work by sending signals into the bloodstream and tissues.2 These signals tell your body what to do and when to do it.3
Hormones move through your blood to your organs, skin, muscles and other tissues,3 working slowly and impacting many different processes: growth; development; metabolism; sexual function; reproduction; mood and more.2
Scientists have identified over 50 hormones in the human body so far.3 Hormones are vital to your health and well-being. When glands do not produce the right amount of hormones, diseases may develop that may affect many aspects of life too.2
What Can Cause Hormonal Changes?
Some hormonal changes are part of a natural lifecycle. For instance, menstruation is the cyclic, orderly shedding of a woman’s uterine lining in response to the interactions of hormones produced by the hypothalamus, pituitary, and ovaries.4 Changes during the years leading up to and in menopause are brought on by changing levels of hormones produced by the ovaries, mainly estrogen.5
There is a more serious condition that covers a broad range of hormone-related conditions, called a hormonal imbalance. This is when you have too much or too little of one or more hormones.3
For many hormones, having even just a little too much or not enough can create major changes in your body and lead to certain health conditions that need treatment. Some hormonal imbalances can be temporary while others are chronic or long-term. Some require treatment to keep you healthy while others impact your quality of life but may not be dangerous to your health.3
What can cause hormonal changes? There are certain medical conditions that can impact a woman’s hormones, including ovarian cancer, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), early menopause, hormone replacement therapy, and birth control medications.6
While this list isn’t exhaustive, here are some other factors that could cause hormonal changes in women:6
- diabetes—type 1 or 2
- high levels of insulin
- injury to the endocrine gland
- unhealthy diet
- excessive stress
- high percentage of body fat
- pituitary tumors
- an overactive or underactive thyroid
- certain medications
- extreme infections
- toxins, pollutants, herbicides and pesticides
- severe allergic reactions
- abuse of anabolic steroid medications
- specific medical conditions such as prader-willi syndrome and hereditary pancreatitis
- phytoestrogens, natural plant estrogens in soy products
That’s a lot of different possible causes, so the only way to be sure what’s wrong is by seeing a doctor. She or he will enquire about symptoms and perform different tests to try and find the cause of the hormonal changes, if that’s the reason for your side effects.
See a doctor if you’re experiencing unexplained changes to your health. Some of the biggest warning signs of a hormonal imbalance are:7
- Mood swings
- Heavy or painful periods
- Low libido
- Insomnia or poor quality of sleep
- Unexplained weight gain
- Skin problems
- Fertility problems
- Weak bones
- Vaginal dryness
Other red flags include a deepening of your voice, a change in your appetite, or vision problems—all signs that you should see a doctor to get proper diagnosis of what could be a change in hormones.6
See a Doctor
Use our Physician Finder to find a doctor near you with expertise in women’s health. Be clear with the symptoms that are causing you concern, and enquire about the possibility of hormonal changes as a reason for the changes to your health and well-being.