Hormonal fluctuations are usually reported in the context of the physiology of women, because women’s bodies have a rhythmic ebb and flow of hormones that occurs every month. Beginning with menarche and ending with menopause, women have a cyclical hormonal rhythm every month all their lives.
Hormones are an intricate network of messengers that guide the organs to perform certain functions – the preparation of the body for pregnancy, or the dissolution of those preparations, thus starting the menstrual flow. Sometimes this system may get imbalanced. This affects many organs, but often a hormonal imbalance shows up in signs and symptoms connected to female cycles. These include:
Bloating: This is linked to water retention and causes weight gain. It may also upset blood pressure.
Constipation or loose motions: Bowel habits may change due to a change in hormonal levels.
Gas and discomfort: A common symptom of PMS is gaseous distention of the abdomen.
Unusual hairfall: There are many reasons for hairfall, one of which is a hormonal imbalance.
Unusual hair growth on the chin: Again, possibly due to a hormonal imbalance.
Mood swings: Hormonal fluctuations have a key role to play.
Headaches and migraines: A sudden rise in headaches and migraines is also related to the hormonal flux.
Change in menstrual pattern: Including heavier or lighter flow than usual, shifting dates, skipped periods (in the absence of pregnancy) and periods of a longer or shorter duration than usual.
Vaginal dryness or infections.
Flushes of heat or cold.
Fatigue, irritability and low energy levels.
Changes in blood sugar levels, blood cholesterol and liver enzymes.
There are several hormones and a complex interplay between them keeps the body balanced. When one or more hormones get unbalanced, the symptoms can be confusing. Doctors usually check estrogen, progesterone, their supervising hormones (FSH and LH) and testosterone. They also check insulin, a key hormone in polycystic ovarian syndrome, and the thyroid hormone.
But aside from this kind of check-up, many women do not realise the significance of the signs their body gives them and delay treatment. When a woman experiences such symptoms, it may be important to get medical attention. In my next column I will talk about how to manage hormonal disorders.