Hormones are chemicals released from endocrine glands within the bloodstream that regulate many biological processes all over the body. They can target specific tissues and influence activities like growth, sleep, hunger, metabolism, reproduction, etc.
The human body produces over 50 hormones that are highly specific and effective in small quantities, enough to circulate in the bloodstream and target only the tissues they are intended for. If your endocrine system is in order, you must have a regular sleeping pattern, uniform growth, healthy bowel movements, etc. However, if something goes awry, your body will usually present with some signs indicating that you should see a doctor for hormonal imbalance as soon as possible.
An endocrinologist is a medical doctor that specializes in treating health issues related to endocrine glands, hormones, and their target tissues. If you have signs of hormonal imbalance, endocrinologists can work with your primary care provider to diagnose your hormonal issue and craft a treatment and management plan that works for you.
Endocrinologists can check your hormone levels and are trained to look for common hormonal disorders like infertility, diabetes, stunted growth, thyroid disease, osteoporosis, metabolic syndrome, and many others.
There are a few types of disorders that can arise in the endocrine system:
If you have the following disorders or symptoms, you should seek an appointment with an endocrinologist to check your hormone levels and treat your health concerns.
The menstrual cycle is closely regulated by four hormones that work in tandem to bring changes to the uterus every month. If you have irregular periods, your endocrine system may not be functioning properly. This could indicate underlying issues like thyroid disorder or PCOS or could occur due to menopause, puberty, or hormonal contraception.
Women with PCOS have higher levels of male hormones that give them characteristics like increased facial hair growth and irregular menstrual periods. If left untreated, PCOS can lead to infertility. Whatever the cause of menstrual irregularity, an endocrinologist can help you plan the treatment for your condition.
Infertility is when a woman is unable to get pregnant (by unprotected sex) for 12 months. Many times, infertility in men and women is due to hormonal imbalances or insufficiencies. In men, low levels of testosterone can lead to a lower sperm count. Women have higher chances of infertility due to hormonal disorders like PCOS, prolactinoma, and anovulation.
Diabetes is the most common endocrine condition in the US. Although it can be managed by administering synthetic insulin, an endocrinologist can look into your hormone levels to form another treatment strategy.
Hyper- and hypothyroidism are both consequential disorders and must be treated. An overactive thyroid can cause rapid weight loss, increased appetite, and menstrual changes. An underactive thyroid can slow down metabolism and cause weight gain, fatigue, high cholesterol levels, and depression. You may also see goiter – an enlargement of the thyroid gland – or feel a nodule if you have a thyroid disorder.
The thyroid is one of the most important regulatory glands in the body and you must seek treatment if your thyroid hormones are imbalanced.
Acne most commonly occurs during puberty when the body is undergoing hormonal changes. Overproduction of sebum from sebaceous glands can clog pores and cause acne. If you have adult acne, it is most likely hormonal and indicates hormonal changes in the body. You should consult a doctor in this situation to determine the cause of your acne, which may be due to menopause, pregnancy, or some sort of hormone therapy.
Metabolism is heavily regulated by hormones to convert food into usable energy. If the body is forming excessive fat stores and you notice a tendency to be overweight or obese despite efforts of controlling your food intake, you may suffer from a hormonal imbalance. Excess cortisol from the adrenal glands or hypothyroidism can slow down metabolism and enhance fat storage.
As you age, your bone density decreases since bone buildup isn’t as fast as bone resorption. Estrogen is an essential hormone for healthy bone maintenance; therefore women going through menopause are at even higher risk for osteoporosis since estrogen levels have dipped. If left unmanaged, it can silently lead to bone fractures that can become an inconvenience.
Low testosterone in men reduces the appearance of male characteristics. Some common signs are reduced sex drive, low sperm count, lack of energy and motivation, and loss of armpit and pubic hair. Testosterone therapy is used to treat this condition and is overseen by an endocrinologist.
Hirsutism is the male-pattern hair growth in women due to higher testosterone levels. Hair is dark and coarse and appears on the back, chest, and face. If you see such growth in your body, it could be an indicator of hormonal changes so you must see an endocrinologist soon.
If you have developed symptoms like nausea and vomiting, constipation, bone pain, low appetite, and frequent urination over a long period, you may be suffering from hypercalcemia. Elevated calcium in the blood may be due to an overactive parathyroid gland that controls calcium levels in the body. If left untreated, calcium can be leached out from the bones causing bone fragility and forming kidney stones.
Your doctor will first take your history. This would involve answering questions regarding any family history of diseases, any unusual symptoms (like those listed above) that you may experience, current medication you may be taking, dietary habits, and other medical conditions you have.
The doctor will also perform a physical assessment of your vitals and the condition of your skin, hair, nails, and teeth as these can indicate the general health of the internal body systems. A blood test may be ordered to check the levels of hormones circulating in the blood and urine analysis may be performed to check the urine for disease indicators. For example, glucose in the urine is a sure indication of diabetes mellitus.
Your doctor will create a treatment plan based on the cause of your hormonal imbalance. Common treatment options include:
For example, you may have a noncancerous tumor on a gland that produces excessive amounts of the hormone. A medicine can offset the effects of the extra hormone or reduce the size of the tumor. Surgery can also be done to extract the tumor and normalize hormone levels.
Hormone replacement therapy is administered if you lack a certain hormone or produce it in smaller amounts than required. You can take pills or inject a synthetic hormone into your body to normalize its level in the blood. For example, hypothyroidism can be treated with pills while synthetic growth hormone needs to be injected.
Hormones are important regulators of most things you do every day like eat or sleep. If they get imbalanced, they can seriously affect your quality of life. So, if you present with common hormonal imbalance symptoms, you should consult an endocrinologist at the earliest to get yourself checked out.
At Family Medicine Austin, we have an expert medical team to help diagnose such disorders, especially diabetes. For more information on hormonal disorders, visit our blog page and contact us today for a consultation!