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Your Hormones, Your Health

Feeling bloated, irritable, or just not your best? A hormone imbalance could be to blame. Hormones are chemical “messengers” that impact the way your cells and organs function. It’s normal for your levels to shift at different times of your life, such as before and during your period or a pregnancy, or during menopause. But some medications and health issues can cause them to go up or down, too.

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Irregular Periods

Most women’s periods come every 21 to 35 days. If yours doesn’t arrive around the same time every month, or you skip some months, it might mean that you have too much or too little of certain hormones (estrogen and progesterone). If you’re in your 40s or early 50s -- the reason can be perimenopause -- the time before menopause. But irregular periods can be a symptom of health problems like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Talk to your doctor.

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Sleep Problems

If you aren’t getting enough shut-eye, or if the sleep you get isn’t good, your hormones could be at play. Progesterone, a hormone released by your ovaries, helps you catch zzz's. If your levels are lower than usual, that can make it hard to fall and stay asleep. Low estrogen can trigger hot flashes and night sweats, both of which can make it tough to get the rest you need.

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Chronic Acne

A breakout before or during your period is normal. But acne that won’t clear up can be a symptom of hormone problems. An excess of androgens (“male” hormones that both men and women have) can cause your oil glands to overwork. Androgens also affect the skin cells in and around your hair follicles. Both of those things can clog your pores and cause acne.

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Memory Fog

Experts aren’t sure exactly how hormones impact your brain. What they do know is that changes in estrogen and progesterone can make your head feel “foggy” and make it harder for you to remember things. Some experts think estrogen might impact brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Attention and memory problems are especially common during perimenopause and menopause. But they can also be a symptom of other hormone-related conditions, like thyroid disease. Let your doctor know if you're having trouble thinking clearly.

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Belly Problems

Your gut is lined with tiny cells called receptors that respond to estrogen and progesterone. When these hormones are higher or lower than usual, you might notice changes in how you're digesting food. That’s why diarrhea, stomach pain, bloating, and nausea can crop up or get worse before and during your period. If you’re having digestive woes as well as issues like acne and fatigue, your hormone levels might be off.

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Ongoing Fatigue

Are you tired all the time? Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of a hormone imbalance. Excess progesterone can make you sleepy. And if your thyroid -- the butterfly-shaped gland in your neck -- makes too little thyroid hormone, it can sap your energy. A simple blood test called a thyroid panel can tell you if your levels are too low. If they are, you can get treated for that.

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Mood Swings and Depression

Researchers think drops in hormones or fast changes in their levels can cause moodiness and the blues. Estrogen affects key brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. But other hormones, that travel the same paths as neurotransmitters, also play a part in how you feel.

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Appetite and Weight Gain

When you’re feeling blue or irritated, as you can be when your estrogen levels dip, you may want to eat more. That might be why drops in the hormone are linked to weight gain. The estrogen dip can also impact your body’s levels of leptin, a hormone that helps regulate food intake.

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Headaches

Lots of things can trigger these. But for some women, drops in estrogen bring them on. That’s why it’s common for headaches to strike right before or during your period, when estrogen is on the decline. Regular headaches or ones that often surface around the same time each month can be a clue that your levels of this hormone might be shifting.

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Vaginal Dryness

It's normal to have this occasionally. But if you often notice that you're dry or irritated down there, low estrogen may be the reason. The hormone helps vaginal tissue stay moist and comfortable. If your estrogen drops because of an imbalance, it can reduce vaginal fluids and cause tightness.

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Loss of Libido

Most people think of testosterone as a male hormone, but women’s bodies make it, too. If your testosterone levels are lower than usual, you might have less of an interest in sex than you usually do.

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Breast Changes

A drop in estrogen can make your breast tissue less dense. And an increase in the hormone can thicken this tissue, even causing new lumps or cysts. Talk to your doctor if you notice breast changes, even if you don’t have any other symptoms that concern you.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 10/22/2015 Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on October 22, 2015

IMAGES PROVIDED BY:

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2) Amie Brink/WebMD

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SOURCES:

David Adamson, M.D., clinical professor, Stanford University School of Medicine, CEO of ARC Fertility, Saratoga, California.

Alyssa Dweck, M.D., assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York City.

Jenna LoGiudice, PhD, CNM, RN, assistant professor, Fairfield University’s School of Nursing, Fairfield, CT.

American Academy of Dermatology: “”Hormonal Factors Key to Understanding Acne in Women”

Cleveland Clinic: “Menstrual Cycle”

Gao, Q., Endocrinology and Metabolism, May 2008

Gov.UK: “Hormone Headaches”

Harvard Medical School: “Testosterone Therapy: Is It For Women?”’ “Perimenopause: Rocky road to menopause,” “Dealing With Menopause Symptoms”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Hormone Imbalance May Be Causing Your Acne”

Lopez, M., Trends in Molecular Medicine, July 2013

National Cancer Institute: “Understanding Breast Changes”

National Sleep Foundation: “Menopause and Sleep”

Soares, C. Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, July 2008

The University of Connecticut Health Center: “Benign Diseases of the Breast”

The University of North Carolina School of Medicine: “Hormones and IBS”

Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on October 22, 2015

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.