Overview of hormone disorders
Hormones are proteins your body makes that 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, meaning you have too much or too little of one or more hormones.
If you have questions about hormones, our gynecologists and women’s health experts at Dignity Health are happy to help. Find a Doctor near you to learn more.
Hormone disorder symptoms depend on the nature of the 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 ones 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
The cause of a hormone disorder will depend on which disorder it is. Typically, the main reason is an imbalance that affects either the reproductive system or the thyroid. Some common hormones that, when unbalanced, can play a role in female hormone disorders are:
- Androgen and other steroid-type hormones
- Thyroid hormone
Other factors that can cause female hormone disorders include:
- The presence of tumors
- Certain medications
- Chromosomal defects
- Exposure to chemotherapy, radiation, and other toxins
- Autoimmune disease
Remember that this is a wide-ranging and varied list, and every item on it does not apply to every female hormone disorder.
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.
Factors that can affect your hormone levels include:
- Genetics: Some hormone disorders are related to gene mutations that run in families. Diabetes and PCOS are two hormone-related diseases that may be related to genetics.
- Age: A woman’s hormone levels change throughout her life. Estrogen levels, for instance, decrease as a woman approaches menopause.
- Ethnicity: Depending on the specific disorder, women of some ethnic backgrounds may be at higher risk. For example, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and South Asian women are at higher risk for hirsutism.
- Medications: Some medications, including steroids, influence hormone production and secretion.
- Weight: Women who are obese can be at a higher risk for hormone disorders.
- Previous ovarian surgery: Women who have had ovarian surgery are at higher risk for developing primary ovarian insufficiency.
- Tumors: Tumors on ovaries or adrenal glands may cause the glands to release excess androgens. Androgens are commonly called “male hormones,” even though both men and women have them. Androgens are responsible for many characteristically male traits, including facial hair and a deep voice. Tumors affecting androgen production are rarely cancerous.
When it comes to female hormone disorders, there are some factors you can control and some you can’t. As with any aspect of your health, it is important to live a healthy lifestyle that includes a diet of fresh, whole foods and plenty of exercise. This can keep insulin levels and other hormones in balance, and it will help you maintain a healthy weight. You should also:
- Manage stress
- Quit smoking
- Speak with your doctor about changing medications if yours is causing a hormone imbalance
The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.