When you think of a hormone imbalance, you probably think of hot flashes and other symptoms that are common among women experiencing menopause. However, many people don’t realize that hormone imbalances are not limited to middle-aged women; they can happen at nearly any age and affect both men and women.
So, what are these hormones causing imbalances in your body? Hormones act like chemical messengers. The brain uses hormones to signal other organs and glands in the body to carry out different functions. If the concentration of a single hormone is higher or lower than normal for a period of time, a systemic hormone imbalance can occur. This is common for boys and girls going through puberty and can also be the result of an injury or pathology affecting hormone production or secretion.
Hormones are commonly thought to be associated with sexual characteristics. For example, puberty causes the ovaries in young women to begin producing and secreting both estrogen and progesterone – sexual hormones that regulate growth and influence reproduction.
In boys, the testes produce testosterone as well as smaller amounts of estrogen. These hormones are integral to sexual function in men as well as building muscle and bone.
Hormones are powerful substances that can cause big changes in how the body functions. In a young and healthy individual, the body is usually able to produce the right amount of each hormone to maintain homeostasis, a state of balance and stability. However, as we age, the tissue that produces hormones may no longer function as effectively – leading to an imbalance of these key hormones.
In women, hormone levels fluctuate naturally throughout the monthly cycle. These natural fluctuations can cause changes to mood and depression (sometimes attributed to PMS) as well as changes in the body during pregnancy.
By middle age, a woman’s ovaries start slowing her production of hormones, thereby initiating the symptoms of perimenopause, or ‘pre-menopause’. The most common symptoms of hormone imbalance in women include:
- Hot flashes or night sweats
- Weight gain or loss
- Trouble sleeping
- Lowered sex drive
- Memory loss
- Vaginal dryness
Some doctors have noted similar etiology in men that could be the result of declining levels of testosterone. The term andropause, also known as the ‘male menopause’, is commonly used to refer to symptoms that may be associated with declining male hormone levels.
Changes in hormone levels occur differently in men and women. As women reach the end of their childbearing years, the ovaries stop releasing eggs and the production of hormones drops dramatically in a short period of time.
Conversely, testosterone production in men decreases slowly over the course of many years. Therefore, the onset of symptoms due to low hormone levels is often observed at a more gradual pace, making it difficult for men to identify and general practitioners to diagnose. While all women eventually reach menopause, not all men experience andropause.
Doctors who recognize andropause as a medical condition often associate the condition with symptoms similar to the menopausal symptoms that affect women:
- Weight gain
- Hot flashes or night sweats
- Reduced sex drive
- Memory loss
- Trouble sleeping
Other symptoms—exclusive to men—that may be attributed to andropause include:
- Muscle loss
- Gynecomastia (enlarged breasts): This condition occurs when testosterone levels drop while estrogen levels remain high. This imbalance can trigger breast tissue growth in men.
- Hair loss
- Erectile dysfunction
- Urinary problems
It is important to note that there are other possible causes for many of these symptoms. For example, erectile dysfunction may be caused by heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, or a number of other serious medical conditions. Similarly, an enlarged prostate most often causes difficulties with urination in men.
Even in cases where men have low testosterone levels, or low T, the cause may be medical rather than simply hormonal. Obesity and diabetes can both cause testosterone levels to drop in men.
For both men and women, it is important to rule out potentially disease-related causes for symptoms classically associated with a hormone imbalance.
After the age of 40, most men and women will experience some form of hormone imbalance, as these types of changes are an inevitable part of the aging process. However, there is good news—hormone imbalance is treatable. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is an option that is recognized by the medical community to treat menopausal symptoms in women.
HRT has also proven effective for men suffering from hormone imbalance. When men experience hormonal change, especially declines in testosterone, HRT may be an effective treatment to help bring relief, restore confidence, and improve overall health. As with any new treatment options you are considering, talk to a medical doctor to determine if it is the best treatment option for you. Both men and women should work with a physician that specializes in hormones and hormone therapy, as these doctors have advanced training that allows them to carefully assess your symptoms, lab results, and medical history in order to design a safe and effective treatment plan tailored to your specific needs.
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Medline Plus. Hormones. Web. May 22, 2015. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/hormones.html
National Institute on Aging. Menopause. Web. May 22, 2015. http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/menopause
Mayo Clinic. Male menopause: Myth or reality? Web. May 22, 2015. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/mens-health/in-depth/male-menopause/art-20048056
Mayo Clinic. Erectile dysfunction. Web. May 22, 2015. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/erectile-dysfunction/basics/causes/con-20034244
Medline Plus. Urination – difficulty with flow. Web. May 22, 2015. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003143.htm
Healthline. Warning Signs of Male Menopause. Megan McCrea. Web. May 22, 2015. http://www.healthline.com/health-slideshow/warning-signs-male-menopause#12Read more in Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy