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Hormones & Your Health

  • Understanding Your Hormones

    Smiling women

    Hormones play many important roles in a woman’s health. Besides the more commonly known hormones progesterone and oestrogen which influence a woman's reproductive health, many other hormones affect numerous aspects of a woman’s health, such as her energy levels, mood, weight and more.

    Hormonal balance is vital to a healthy mind and body. Here, we look at how hormonal imbalances may lead to certain disorders as well as affect mental health.

  • Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

    Stethoscope

    Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) often causes clusters of small, pearl-sized fluid-filled cysts that contain immature eggs to grow in the ovaries. Women with PCOS typically produce higher amounts of the male hormone androgen. This hormonal disorder commonly affects women of reproductive age. As the symptoms of PCOS differ between patients and may be related to other illnesses, the condition is often overlooked and undiagnosed. Here, we look at the key signs and symptoms of PCOS.

    Signs & Symptoms

    PCOS is a hormonal disorder characterised by a set of symptoms. Common symptoms include:

    • Irregular menstrual cycle
    • Excessive body or facial hair
    • Infertility
    • Thinning hair
    • Weight problems
    • Skin problems

    The symptoms of PCOS may differ between women, and PCOS can lead to further complications such as diabetes or heart problems. If you experience any of the above symptoms, talk to your endocrinologist to find out if you have PCOS.

    Diagnosis & Treatment

    The endocrinologist will discuss your medical history, menstrual period, weight changes and symptoms. A physical examination of the pelvic area, blood tests, and ultrasound may be ordered to confirm a diagnosis of PCOS.

    If PCOS is diagnosed, treatment is then prescribed based on the woman’s age, symptoms and future reproductive plans. This may include medication or recommendations for lifestyle changes. With the proper diagnosis, treatment and lifestyle changes, PCOS can be managed. Talk to your endocrinologist to understand more.

  • Thyroid Disorders

    Woman with thyroid disorder

    The thyroid is a gland located at the front of the neck. This gland produces 2 hormones, thyroxine and triiodothyronine, which regulate various vital processes for growth, development, energy expenditure and more. Thyroid disorders may occur when the gland releases too little or too much hormone. An underactive or overactive thyroid can lead to a wide range of health problems. Women are more prone to thyroid disorders than men, thus it is important to be aware of the signs and seek help promptly.

    Signs & Symptoms

    Hyperthyroidism is when the thyroid is overactive and can be due to several illnesses such as Grave’s disease or a viral infection of the thyroid gland. Common symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:

    • Changes in menstruation
    • Anxiety, nervousness and irritability
    • Bulging eyes
    • Muscle weakness and trembling
    • Sensitivity to heat
    • Fatigue and lethargy
    • Fast heart rate and palpitations
    • Diarrhoea
    • Weight loss
    • Sleeping difficulty

    Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid does not produce enough hormones and is often due to Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks the thyroid gland. Common symptoms of hypothyroidism include:

    • Fragile fingernails and hair
    • Changes in menstruation
    • Weight gain
    • Fatigue and sluggishness
    • Constipation
    • Depression
    • Pale skin and puffy face
    • Sensitivity to cold
    • Slow heart rate

    Thyroid disorders may lead to further complications such as vision problems, irregular heart rhythm, heart failure and osteoporosis. Prompt diagnosis and treatment can improve a patient's quality of life. If you suspect that you have a thyroid disorder, consult your endocrinologist to find out more.

    Diagnosis & Treatment

    If you suspect that you have a thyroid disorder, your endocrinologist will perform a physical examination and enquire about your medical history. At times, the following tests may be further prescribed for a more accurate diagnosis:

    • Blood tests
    • Thyroid scan
    • Ultrasound
    • Biopsy

    Treatment depends on your age, physical state, and the cause and the severity of your condition. Treatment options include:

    • Anti-thyroid medicine
    • Hormone replacement therapy
    • Radioactive iodine treatment
    • Surgical removal

    Talk to your endocrinologist to find out the treatment plan that best suits your needs.

  • Menopause

    Middle aged woman relaxing

    Menopause represents the end of menstruation, and is a natural process that occurs when a women is past middle age. It is not an illness but the natural end of a woman’s fertility. As women age, production of the 2 hormones oestrogen and progesterone in the ovaries slow down and the ovaries stop producing eggs. Menopause usually occurs in women aged 45 – 55.

    Signs & Symptoms

    The signs of menopause are different for every woman. One may find the symptoms more overwhelming than others. A woman’s mood might change frequently, from sadness and low self-esteem to irritability and frustration. Common signs include:

    • Hot flushes and night sweats
    • Irregular periods
    • Mood swings
    • Aches, weakness or stiffness in joints
    • Mental fogginess
    • Constipation and flatulence
    • Urinary incontinence
    • Difficulty sleeping
    • Rapid heartbeat, nausea and dizziness
    • Skin and hair changes
    • Vaginal dryness
    • Low libido
    • Frequent urinating

    If you experience any of the above signs, consult your endocrinologist to understand how certain treatment or lifestyle changes may help alleviate the symptoms.

    Treatment

    Menopause may lead to a higher risk for heart disease, bone loss and fractures. It is important to understand these risks so that the necessary steps can be taken to reduce them. In most women, the hormone levels will eventually stabilise and the symptoms will decrease. Talk to your doctor to discuss treatment options and lifestyle recommendations to help manage menopause and its symptoms.

  • Hormonal Disorders & Mental Health

    Woman feeling depressed

    Hormones have a significant impact on regulating mood and mental health, with hormonal fluctuations occurring throughout the day to help regulate sleep and wake cycles, metabolism, appetite and energy expenditure. Environmental stressors or certain medical disorders may cause the hormonal glands to malfunction. When this happens, a person may feel irritable, depressed or have trouble focusing.

    Signs & Symptoms

    Common signs of hormonal deficiency include:

    • Feeling depressed
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Decreased mental sharpness
    • Inability to focus
    • Memory loss
    • Trouble remembering
    • State of confusion

    If you experience any of the above symptoms, talk to your endocrinologist for a proper diagnosis and treatment options to help improve your quality of life.

    Causes

    Studies have shown that certain hormonal deficiencies can affect mental health. Reproductive hormones such as progesterone, oestrogen, and testosterone influence brain nerve cells and may protect against memory or cognition loss. After childbirth, the drop in progesterone levels is also linked to postpartum depression. Hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) has been linked to depression, difficulty concentrating and short term memory loss.

    If you suspect that you have hormonal deficiency, consult with your endocrinologist to find out more.

    Diagnosis & Treatment

    Your endocrinologist will look at your medical history. Certain tests may be prescribed for accurate diagnosis. The intensity and extent of treatment will depend on the severity of the hormonal imbalance, your physical health and lifestyle factors. Consult your endocrinologist to find out more.

    References:

    Chakrabarti S. Thyroid Functions and Bipolar Affective Disorder. J Thyroid Res 2011.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3144691/

    Hage M., Azar S. The Link between Thyroid Function and Depression. J Thyroid Res 2012.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3246784/

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