Beaufort Memorial’s Living Well Blog brings health and wellness to Lowcountry living.

Hormones in Harmony

Posted by Women's Health Team on Nov 16, 2016 2:12:50 PM

When hormones are working as they should, your body hums along just fine. But when these chemical messengers are out of balance, they can affect your health in big ways. Here’s a look at two issues caused by hormonal imbalances. 

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Thyroid Disorders

Thyroid hormones affect your metabolism (and your brain, heart and other organs) and how your body turns food into energy. When your thyroid hormone levels are too low, it’s called hypothyroidism, a condition that can cause fatigue, a low heart rate, constipation and weight gain.

On the flip side, hyperthyroidism occurs when thyroid hormone levels are too high. You might feel nervous or irritable, struggle to concentrate, have a fast heart rate, experience diarrhea or have trouble sleeping. You also may lose weight without trying.

After discussing your medical history and symptoms, your doctor can order a blood test of your hormone levels and then discuss possible treatments. 

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Women typically have small amounts of testosterone, but those with PCOS produce more of this “male” hormone. Women with PCOS have a large number of follicles (the sacs where the eggs grow) on their ovaries. It’s called “polycystic” because the follicles look like cysts. 

PCOS, which is more common among women who are obese, appears to have a genetic component as well. Symptoms include irregular menstrual periods, heavy menstrual bleeding, excess facial hair, weight gain, skin problems and infertility. 

Women with PCOS should be aware that they are at higher risk for diabetes, heart disease, uterine cancer, sleep apnea and pregnancy complications. To diagnose PCOS, your doctor will ask about your medical history and do a physical exam. In addition, your doctor might order a blood test to measure hormone levels and an ultrasound to look at the ovaries. Some medications can help treat the symptoms of PCOS, while others are designed to rebalance a woman’s hormones.

Are Your Hormones Weighing You Down?

If you’ve struggled with weight loss, you might consider the role of your hormones. According to Marlena Mattingly, MD, an OB-GYN with Beaufort Memorial Obstetrics & Gynecology Specialists, your birth control could be a factor. “Women who can’t take estrogen because they have uncontrolled high blood pressure, a history of blood clots or are over age 35 and smoke are generally given progestin,” Mattingly says. “Depo-Provera, a progestin injection, is commonly known to increase your appetite, which can lead to weight gain.” 

A better option may be Mirena, a hormone-releasing IUD that is inserted into the uterus for long-term birth control. “OB-GYNs love it,” Mattingly says. “It contains a lower dose of progestin, and because it’s in the uterus, it has fewer side effects than systemic birth control pills or injections.”

Persistent stress, which causes the body to store fat and affects your other hormones, can also hinder weight loss. For that and other reasons, finding ways to minimize and manage stress is critical.

Dr. Marlena Mattingly is a board-eligible OB-GYN with Beaufort Memorial Obstetrics & Gynecology Specialists. She can be reached at (843) 522-7820.  

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