Because hormones affect so many different aspects of how our bodies operate, the outward symptoms tend to be varied and nonspecific. It may feel as though you are simply tired or upset after an unusually stressful or busy week. With a hormonal imbalance, a person may suffer from anxiety, insomnia, loss of appetite, and poor concentration. Irritability and mood swings are also quite common. Hormonal balance is critical for our emotional well-being, so radical changes in the way we feel about ourselves and interact with others may indicate a problem.
Some physical indicators of a possible hormonal imbalance include sudden weight gain, acne, hair loss, night sweats, and reduced libido. Women may experience intense premenstrual symptoms, vaginal dryness, yeast infections, and hot flashes. Some women also suffer from unusually heavy, irregular, or painful periods. Infertility may also be the result of a hormonal imbalance.
If a hormonal imbalance is suspected, blood, saliva, or urine tests can determine whether hormones are within a normal range.
Some of the risk factors associated with hormonal imbalance are emotional. Untreated hormonal imbalance can lead to intense anxiety, depression, and lethargy. Irritability, inability to concentrate, and mood swings may also take a significant emotional toll on both the patients and those around them.
There are also numerous physical risks associated with hormonal imbalance, the severity depending on which hormones are not at ideal levels and how long the imbalance is sustained. The dangers of insufficient insulin, for example, are well-documented in studies of diabetic patients. If insulin levels are not controlled, the blood sugar imbalance can lead to serious complications, including nerve damage, heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, and blindness.
The adrenal glands above the kidneys are divided into two structures that each produce different hormones, all involved in regulating essential body functions. The adrenal cortex synthesizes corticosteroid hormones, which help control metabolism, blood electrolyte levels, inflammation, stress response, and immune response. The other structure, the adrenal medulla, is the source of several hormones that communicate with the nervous system, including adrenaline, nor adrenaline, and dopamine. Adrenal hormone imbalance can result in depression, fatigue, dehydration, and susceptibility to infection.
In the case of hypothyroidism, where the thyroid is producing insufficient hormones, untreated patients may develop heart disease and high cholesterol. Pregnant women with hypothyroidism may have significant complications with their pregnancies, including premature labor, anemia, pre-eclampsia, and other conditions that may threaten the life of their baby.
As middle age approaches, women are at risk for hormonal imbalances associated with the onset of menopause. During this time, the ovaries cease to function, inducing an imbalance in estrogen and progesterone. Untreated, these imbalances put women at risk for osteoporosis, breast and uterine cancer, and heart disease.