An endocrine system is a group of glands that produce and release hormones essential for several body functions. These hormones are crucial for physical, mental, and reproductive health, and their fluctuations may act as triggering factors for the development of various chronic manifestations such as diabetes, adrenal disorders, thyroid imbalances, growth disorders, sexual dysfunction, etc. High or low levels of endocrine hormone may be manifested due to:
A genetic disorder
Improper functioning of the endocrine system
Illness or Disease
Infection or injury to the gland
Development of tumor or lesion
Endocrine disorders or endocrine imbalances occur when the functioning of the endocrine system is interrupted or impaired, posing several health risks, particularly in women. Women are naturally susceptible to hormonal imbalances with increased risk during puberty, menstruation, breastfeeding, pregnancy, and menopause. The most common causative factors for endocrine disorders include poor diet, stress, certain medications, clinical conditions such as diabetes, hypoglycemia, obesity, and primary ovarian insufficiency (POI) and environmental factors like exposure to toxins, pollutants, etc.
Hormones play a significant role in a woman's body, and their imbalance will give rise to uncountable signs or symptoms depending upon the causative factors and lifestyle habits. Some of the common symptoms include:
Unexplained weight gain or weight loss
a hump of fat between the shoulders
Diabetes – It is one of the most prevalent endocrine disorders wherein elevated blood glucose levels lead to chronic clinical complications in an individual. Diabetes occurs when the pancreas fails to produce adequate insulin or the insulin produced is not effectively utilized by the body. It is symptomized by fatigue, excessive hunger or thirst, and unexplained weight loss. Though diabetes treatment may vary depending on its type, the typical strategy employed for its management includes medication regimen, insulin administration, and diet and lifestyle modifications.
Adrenal disorders and imbalances – The adrenal gland is associated with the production of various life-essential hormones such as cortisol. Cortisol is a vital hormone that preserves the health and functioning of the nervous system, immune system, and heart and assists in maintaining blood pressure and metabolic activities in the body. The adrenal imbalance symptoms include insomnia, fatigue, anxiousness, cravings, and irritability. The most prevalent adrenal disorders include:
Development of tumors (mostly non-cancerous) posing severe health adversities
Cushing's syndrome is caused due to high levels of cortisol or prolonged use of steroids.
Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) causes adrenal dysfunctioning and increases the production of male sex hormones (androgens).
Addison's disease is caused due to inadequate cortisol and aldosterone, damaging the adrenal glands.
Thyroid disorders – The thyroid gland produces thyroid hormone vital for various metabolic processes in the body. The inadequate or excessive production of the hormone may induce several health conditions, which include:
Hyperthyroidism – This results from the overproduction of thyroid hormone caused due to inflammation of the thyroid gland, excessive iodine in the blood, certain medications, or the formation of non-cancerous tumors on the pituitary gland. The symptoms of hyperthyroidism include an enlarged thyroid gland, difficulty sleeping, and rapid heart rate. The various diseases associated with hyperthyroidism are:
- Graves' disease — It is an autoimmune disorder resulting in an overactive thyroid.
- Toxic adenoma — Overactive nodules within the thyroid secrete extra hormones causing hyperthyroidism.
- Subacute thyroiditis — It is a temporary condition causing inflammation of the thyroid gland
- Pituitary irregularities or thyroid growths
Hypothyroidism — It occurs when the gland fails to produce a sufficient amount of the hormone or when the hormone produced is not utilized effectively by the body. Women with hypothyroidism may experience energy loss, hair damage, skin changes, and unexplained weight gain. The potential causes responsible for triggering hypothyroidism are:
- Hashimoto's thyroiditis: an autoimmune disorder that destroys thyroid cells.
- Surgical removal or chemical destruction of the thyroid
- Overexposure to certain substances like iodide, lithium, etc
- Medications like sinus or heart medicines.
Pituitary Disorders – The dysfunctioning of the pituitary gland may induce clinical disorders. When the pituitary gland releases little or no hormones, it leads to hypopituitarism. Another condition termed Acromegaly occurs when the pituitary gland causes overproduction of growth hormone (GH), leading to swollen hands and feet and bone changes in the face. Women with this condition may experience the absence of their menstruation.
Imbalance of Reproductive Hormones - Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is an imbalance of reproductive hormones, which may result in infertility. It is symptomized by irregular periods, acne, hair loss, excessive body hair, and depression. Women with PCOS may experience insulin resistance, thus increasing the risk of diabetes. Some potential factors triggering PCOS in women are:
Genetics and family history
Body weight concerns during birth, childhood, and adulthood
Another disorder associated with reproductive hormones is precocious puberty. This condition is characterized by the early release of sex hormones which results in abnormally early puberty in young girls.
The most prevalent treatment modules include medications that regulate hormone production, hormone supplements, and surgery. Lifestyle modifications, combined with specific nutritional supplementation, can help restore hormonal balance and resolve the associated conditions. Various medicinal strategies that can be employed to combat hormonal imbalance are:
Estrogen therapy– It is helpful if you face hot flushes and uncomfortable menopause symptoms.
Vaginal estrogen– Vaginal dryness and pain during intercourse are common hormonal imbalance symptoms that can be treated using estrogen creams and tablets.
Hormonal birth control - Hormonal birth control pills are effective in regulating the menstrual cycle and reducing acne and hirsutism.
Anti-androgen medicines– These medications can help alleviate androgen-associated conditions and manage symptoms like hair loss, facial hair growth, acne, etc.
Metformin– Metformin is an effective medication not only to manage type 2 diabetes but also to treat PCOS conditions as it helps in lowering androgen levels and supports ovulation.
However, it is advisable to seek medical permission before starting any hormonal medication and ensure regular follow-ups with the healthcare professional to obtain maximum health benefits from the treatment regimen.
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